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How to Help Someone in a Manic Episode

It can be distressing to see someone you love experience a manic episode. Mania affects how a person thinks, feels, and responds to various stimuli. In this state, there is a dramatic shift in mood and energy. Mania can sometimes be unpredictable, although loved ones may be able to detect various patterns the more they understand the condition.

What Are Manic Episodes?

Manic episodes refer to episodes of high energy, excitement, and restlessness. Manic episodes are a feature of bipolar disorders and schizoaffective disorder, and they can last anywhere from a week to several months.

It's important to consider that abnormal manic behavior stands out from general moments of euphoria. The behavior is grandiose and extreme, and it tends to be obvious to family members and close friends.

Classic mania symptoms include:

  • Excessively high energy level

  • Not sleeping or barely sleeping (while still feeling rested)

  • Being more talkative and animated than usual

  • Being easily distracted

  • Becoming obsessed with a new plan or idea

  • Pacing or fidgeting around excessively

  • Engaging in impulsive behaviors (shopping sprees, sex with strangers, drug binges)

  • Feeling invincible and unstoppable

Mania symptoms are severe enough to impact daily functioning and potentially cause harm. This is what makes mania different from hypomania- hypomania is a milder form of mania that typically only lasts for a few days. However, someone with a history of hypomanic episodes may be at an increased risk for having a manic episode.

The presence of at least one episode of mania and one major depressive episode yields a bipolar I diagnosis. But along with bipolar disorder, mania is associated with several mental health conditions, including:

  • seasonal affective disorder

  • schizoaffective disorder

  • postpartum psychosis

Manic symptoms can occur at any age in life. However, the typical age of onset is usually between adolescence and early adulthood.

What to Do When Someone Is Having a Manic Episode

Loved ones often feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or confused by manic episodes. The energy can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging to plan ahead or maintain a pleasant home life. Even if your loved one seems stable now, you might worry about future manic episodes.

Here are some action-based steps family members can take if they want to provide support.

Recognize Prodromal Symptoms

Prodromal symptoms (early signs of mania) are often the initial warning signs that a manic episode is just around the corner. These symptoms tend to be slight, and they're in a less severe form than the mania itself. At this point, your loved one's symptoms may include increased irritability, heightened anxiety, rapid mood swings, and aggressiveness.

Try to Understand Their Experience

It's a misconception that people with bipolar disorder often cycle through frequent mood swings. Many people, in fact, tend to gravitate more toward depression symptoms. The mania often feels like a friendly distraction from their low mood.

At the same time, there's an inherent level of anxiety and distress associated with manic episodes. People often feel isolated and misunderstood. They want everyone to be at the same speed as them, and they experience frustration when that's not the case.

Avoid Taking Things Personally

Friends and family can easily get sucked into the mental energy associated with manic episodes. This makes sense- you're worried about their behavior and want to prevent things from escalating too much.

At the same time, it's important to be mindful of any tendency to overstep or assume responsibility. Your loved one will likely say or do things they later regret. At that moment, they can't fully see the negative consequences of their behavior.

Encourage Your Loved One to Get Sleep

Adequate sleep can help reduce the intensity of severe manic episodes. Getting enough sleep can keep your loved one feeling emotionally well despite their symptoms.

Of course, you need to recognize that your loved one won't want to get much rest right now. They're hyper, focused, and restless. Instead of trying to reason with that, simply offer minimal suggestions.

For example, at the very least, encouraging short naps may help restore moods- even if only in the context of short periods.

Avoid Intense Conversations and Arguments

Manic behavior may include aggressiveness and conflict. Your loved one, for example, may decide that right now is the time to have a serious, honest conversation about everything in your relationship. They may disregard your personal space and insist that you need to work this issue out immediately.

Regardless of their urgency, you have a choice over how you react. If now is not the time for an intense conversation, let them know.

Reach out to other friends or family if you need additional support. You may feel guilty setting these limits, but it's better to avoid subjecting yourself to more problems. You deserve to feel refreshed when you speak to your loved one, and that's healthier for everyone.

Set Boundaries

You should not enable your loved one's symptoms if they're adversely impacting the quality of your life.

The best way to support someone with a mental illness is by being compassionate but firm. That means knowing your own limits and being mindful of them.

Healthy boundaries for bipolar disorders often include:

  • refusing to give money after it has already been spent

  • requiring that the family member attends treatment if they want to live at home

  • avoiding intense or inappropriate conversations until the moment is calm

  • attending your own therapy or support group

  • refusing to let them criticize or threaten you in your home

If you're a parent to a child experiencing a manic episode, focus on being consistent. Consistency is one of the crucial elements of parenting. When you can provide clear parameters about what you will and will not tolerate, your child doesn't have to guess how you might respond.

Don't Agree to Any Major Life Decisions

Whether they want to go into business with you, get married, or relocate to a new state, a manic state can exacerbate impulsivity. Your loved one may feel very excited about trying something new.

At times, you may even feel pressured to go along with their plans. You might agree to something just to avoid arguments.

But this only tends to enable problematic behavior and causes everyone to feel overwhelmed. Likewise, your loved one probably won't trust you if you back out of your commitments or fail to actually do what you say.

Instead, wait until things have stabilized. If you must, simply say something neutral like, I need more time to think about that, or, I'm not so sure.

Try to Stay Calm

Sometimes, loved ones feel the need to match the individual's intensity. But this mindset tends to fuel more chaos and doesn't really allow you to support someone appropriately.

Instead, try to focus on having a better understanding of the situation. Remember that you don't have to respond to certain questions right away. Allow yourself to breathe and take breaks. If needed, avoid intense conversations if you feel overwhelmed.

Stick to Your Crisis Plan

Manic behavior can escalate if your loved one has a serious mental illness. This is especially true if they aren't receiving treatment for their mental health.

Depressive episodes, which often follow manic episodes, tend to be a dangerous time for people. At this point, the mood swings are sharp, the mood plummets, and all the negative aspects of depression rear their ugly head.

Your loved one likely requires hospitalization if they have the plan and means to hurt themselves or someone else. They may also need a higher level of care if they're experiencing severe psychosis.

Remember that it's not your job to be their therapist, doctor, or any other healthcare professional. Your job is to provide support and have resources available. But it's entirely unrealistic to assume responsibility for treating their mental illness.

Encourage Professional Help and Review Your Treatment Options

Bipolar disorder isn't curable, but it is treatable. The right treatment can make all the difference when it comes to your loved one's well-being.

Therapy can help people recognize what triggers manic symptoms. It can also help them take proactive steps to manage their stress, improve their coping responses, and look after their overall mental health.

How We Treat Bipolar Disorder and Other Related Mental Illness

Watching a loved one experience a manic episode can feel exhausting. You want to provide support, but you don't want to say or do the wrong thing. You may recognize that they have a mental health condition, but you feel frustrated by the toll their symptoms have on you.

At Resurface Group, we treat mental illnesses with compassion, guidance, and evidence-based care. Whether your loved one has a severe form of bipolar disorder- or you aren't sure what diagnosis they have- we are here to help.

We provide wraparound services, including medication management, support groups, psychiatric care, and self-management skills. Contact us today to learn more!

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