Insights into the best way to communicate with someone who has bipolar disorder or another mental illness.
Supporting Someone with Bipolar - For Family and Friends
- Use short, clear direct sentences. Long, involved explanations are difficult for people with mental illness to handle. They will tune you out.
- Keep the content of communications simple. Cover only one topic at a time; give only one direction at a time. Be as concrete as possible.
- Do what you can to keep the "stimulation level" as low as possible. A loud voice, an insistent manner, making accusations and criticisms are painfully defeating for anyone who has suffered a mental breakdown.
- If your relative appears withdrawn and uncommunicative, back off for a while. Your communication will have a better chance of getting the desired response when your relative is calmer and in better contact.
- Assume that a good deal of everything you say to your ill relative will "fall through the cracks." You will often have to repeat instructions and directions. Be patient; you will be rewarded in heaven.
- Be pleasant and firm. If you do not "waffle" or undermine what you are expressing, your relative will not as readily misinterpret it. Communications are our "boundaries" in dealing with others. Make sure your boundaries are sturdy and clear.
Last Updated: 07 April 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD