Battling Bipolar Mood Swings

Jun 20, 2016

Battling Bipolar Mood Swings

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When caring for a loved one, all we want to do is help and it can be difficult when dealing with a mental illness that they, and we, cannot control.  Each day is different. Some days are good and stable, while others are hard to handle. Here are some tips on combatting mood swings, and supporting your senior who suffers from Bipolar Disorder.

Learning Curve     

First off, understand that supporting someone with a mental illness is a learning process. There is no exact path to take for supporting someone with Bipolar Disorder. Understanding what works and what doesn’t work when caring for someone when their mood swings flare up takes time and experience. 

It’s always easier to handle a roller coaster when you can see the hills and valleys up ahead. It is good to be aware of triggers that could bring on an episode where the individuals coping mechanisms may fail.  A few common triggers that you can catch are:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Argumentative attitude with loved ones
  • Substance abuse
  • Change of seasons (seasonal depression)
  • Grief (the death of a loved one)
  • Medications. Some medications could affect their mood swings; so, keep a close eye when starting a new drug (antidepressants, thyroid meds, appetite suppressants and corticosteroids can trigger manic phases).

You can also be aware of some unique to them triggers that you may pick up on as time goes on. Keep a mental note of possible signs your loved one is entering a depressive or manic phase. This knowledge could give you time to prevent or prepare for an episode.

How Can I Help?

When in the throws of a mood swing, it can often be hard to take a step back and realize their agitated reactions or depressive detached mood is not who they are. It is very important to listen, not exactly to the words they are saying, but to the emotion being felt behind the words. By understanding the underlying emotions you can better avoid unnecessary arguments and be more in tune to how to give helpful support.

If they can no longer drive and this upsets them, paying for a taxi service or offering to drive them doesn’t solve the whole problem. When you listen effectively, you hear the underlying problem… Acknowledge how they are feeling. It can be frustrating losing that bit of freedom. Be there to listen and support in more than just a financial way. Open communication will play a huge role in mutual understanding and recovery.

Verbally support and let them know, ”I know you’re feeling bad right now, I want to help.” Tell them you know that it is a mental illness and remind them it isn’t their fault. Even if you think they already know, give them that extra reassurance.   

Do not cater to all emotions that they are feeling at the moment; try to continue with routine rather than always focusing on the mental health condition. Don’t take over everything for them by doing things that they can still do themselves in an attempt to make things easier on them.  That simply reinforces their feeling of uselessness.

Outside Help

It is very important to find good medical care. Make sure your family member undergoes a full physical examination yearly to determine if another medical problem is affecting symptoms and/or if the medication should be adjusted. Make sure your doctor is aware of all the medication being taken, as many bipolar medications can have complications when combined with other drugs.

Psychotherapy or “Talk Therapy” can be very effective in treating mood swings. Though you can still continue to listen and be there for your family member, getting them in touch with a professional that you and they trust to talk about their emotions and symptoms can smooth out some of the swings or provide them with better coping skills. It can help the participant better define their illness and overcome insecurities, fear, maybe even shame surrounding their illness.

You, yourself, should also seek support. Talk to someone you can trust or join a support group for similar caregivers. DBSA Support groups are very helpful. Talking with people who are dealing with similar problems can be very therapeutic and alleviate some of the stress you undergo as a caregiver.

Have a Crisis Plan laid out with the numbers of local crisis intervention teams, their therapist, doctor, and DBSA Support Groups.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What treatments are available for LOBD?

Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are lithium carbonate and valproic acid (Depakote). Antidepressants may also be prescribed, however, their usage is not without risk. Again, since the causes of LOBD are still somewhat unknown, there have been debates within the medical community as to which method of treatment is the most effective. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy: This treatment is sometimes used for patients who are severely depressed or manic, and who do not respond well to medications. This can be a quick and efficient way to help people who are at a high risk for attempting suicide. The procedure involves inducing a grand mal seizure lasting less than one minute by the use of electrodes placed on the scalp. 

Although the method lost public credibility following distorted and negative portrayals in 1960’s media coverage, modern procedures have been shown as both safe and effective.

Vagus or Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS): Involves a small device implanted into the vagus nerve in order to mitigate depressive symptoms.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): A small electromagnetic coil treats the symptoms of depression by stimulating nerves in the mood centers of the brain.

Light Therapy: For people suffering from bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, sitting under a special light box capable of emitting full-spectrum light can help to treat depressive symptoms associated with the changes in weather.

See All Answers »

What are some of the causes of late-onset bipolar disorder?

The causes of late-onset bipolar disorder are not known, however, researchers believe that a number of factors may contribute to the disorder. Some of these include genetics, neurological or cognitive disorders, and environmental factors.

See All Answers »

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