How To Support A Partner With Bipolar Disorder

catherine zeta jones michael douglas
Love, Self

How to be a Michael Douglas spouse to a bipolar partner like Catherine Zeta-Jones.

As far as difficult years go, Catherine Zeta-Jones has had a particularly tough 12 months. In the midst of raising her children and helping her husband, Michael Douglas, beat cancer, the stress finally caught up to her this week. She checked herself into a mental health facility to treat bipolar disorder, bringing an under-the-radar disease into the spotlight. As it turns out, the disorder is far more common than you may think.

Zeta-Jones is just one of more than six million Americans who suffer from bipolar disorder—that's about one in 40 people—and it's likely many more cases have simply gone undetected. If your partner is, or could be, suffering from bipolar disorder, then here's how you can help lend some support.

1. Know what the disease looks like. Bipolar disorder can often go undiagnosed. If your partner acts depressed for more than two weeks consistently, then it's time to visit a doctor for an evaluation.

"In the case of bipolar disorder, professional treatment is needed," YourTango Expert Dr. Terri Orbuch says. "Your partner will need assistance more than you alone can provide. Remember to seek professional help from your physician. Drugs called mood stabilizers are considered to be the first-line treatment."

2. Get educated and have a plan. It's essential to work on understanding bipolar disorder. Episodes can often be triggered by unavoidable stress, so make sure to have a plan of action in place for getting through an episode.

"Even a mild stressor can really throw you for a loop," says YourTango Expert and psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini. "Try to plan ahead. Prepare yourself. Go to the psychologist together, at least some of the time, so you can ask questions."

YourTango Expert Lori Edelson agrees that aiming for prevention is best. "Understand the triggers and offer support, reminders, and even alter the environment to reduce the possibility of triggering an episode." 

3. Encourage your partner to stick with treatment. It can be difficult in the beginning to fall into step with a new routine of medications, so encourage your partner from the start of treatment.

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