9 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Bipolar Disorder

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If you have bipolar disorder, someone has likely said at least one of these things to you. If you know someone who lives with this condition, you may be guilty of saying one or more of them. You may have good intentions but not realize how these words can be received.

Hearing these comments can be painful, infuriating, depressing—even destructive—to someone living with bipolar disorder. Saying them is not going to be helpful.

This article discusses some of the things that you can do and say to help support someone with bipolar disorder. It also covers some of the things you should avoid saying to avoid causing hurt and frustration.

Overview of Bipolar Disorder

If you want to know how to support a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder, learning more about the condition can be a helpful first step. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme fluctuations in mood. These shifts in mood make it difficult for a person to function in their daily life including at work, at home, and in relationships. 

The mood fluctuations that people experience can include mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. It is also important to recognize that bipolar disorder is strongly influenced by genetics, but environmental factors, such as poor social support and trauma, are also thought to play a role in triggering the onset of the condition.

Statistics suggest that around 4.4% of adults in the U.S. have bipolar disorder.

Some things that you should never say to someone who has bipolar disorder include the following.

"You're Just Overreacting Again"

Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder, but phrases like this minimize the person's experience of this symptom. When supporting a loved one living with a mental health condition like bipolar disorder, it's important that your words demonstrate empathy rather than exasperation.

Your loved one may very well be overreacting compared to how you would perceive the situation, but describing their feelings as "just" overreacting trivializes their lived experience and communicates shame rather than compassion.

"Anything That Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger"

Yes, it's true that some people go through difficult experiences, learn from them, and come out of them stronger. But this phrase is wrong—bipolar disorder can kill. At least 25% to 60% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide and between 4% and 16% die from suicide.

Leave this cliche out of your repertoire. If you have a friend or family member with bipolar disorder, be aware that they might go into a crisis and need your support.

If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

"Everybody Has Mood Swings Sometimes"

That's true. For one thing, 8% of American adults and 4% of adolescents have major depressive disorder, having periods of euthymia and depression. Even among those who do not have a diagnosable mental health disorder, people experience changes in mood.

But only people with bipolar disorder, cyclothymia, schizoaffective disorder, and related severe mental illnesses have repeated and severe mood swings between mania or hypomania and depression.

"Everyone Is a Little Bipolar Sometimes"

This similar phrase is insensitive for the same reasons. Having mood swings is not the same as having bipolar disorder. Statements like this minimize the severity of the symptoms that a person with bipolar disorder lives with and dismisses their experiences.

"You Are Psycho"

Nuts, crazy, cuckoo, deranged, bonkers, or any one of a dozen negative words and phrases that refer to someone's mental state are insensitive and harmful to people with mental health disorders. You might be used to throwing such phrases around to brand your friends' behavior without realizing how they can be hurtful to someone who is coping with a disorder.

"You're Acting Like a Maniac"

Though the historical definition of "maniac" referred to someone experiencing mania, today the term carries with it a host of extremely negative and misleading connotations.

Maniacs are often portrayed as violent and deranged in popular culture. Experiencing bipolar mania does not automatically mean that a person will be dangerous. Bipolar disorder is also not the same thing as antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy.

You should also be wary of any language that defines a person by their disorder. A person is much more than a disease or illness.

"I Wish I Was Manic So I Could Get Things Done"

That's not all there is to mania.​ ​There are many symptoms of mania, and comments like this not only trivialize a person's experience with mania but also demonstrate a harmful lack of understanding of what mania actually is. While a person may indeed have a lot of energy during a manic episode, they can also experience racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, and impulsive behavior among other challenges.

"But You Seem So Normal"

Maybe the person with bipolar disorder is between cycles, or maybe they are good at hiding what they're feeling. They may be in a hypomanic episode and only the good things about it are visible from the outside. Consider how this would sound if you had a serious illness such as cancer and someone said, "You can't be sick, you look so normal!"

"It Must Be Your Time of the Month"

While it's true that monthly hormonal changes may affect mood, passing off bipolar disorder as being nothing more than PMS is just wrong. Bipolar disorder also doesn't discriminate: It can affect people of all sexes—not just those who menstruate. Any person is liable to take offense at this statement, let alone a person with bipolar disorder.

Recap

Bipolar disorder can be challenging, but social support can help people with this condition cope. You can be a good friend by making sure to avoid insensitive or unkind comments that are dismissive or stigmatizing.

How to Help Someone With Bipolar Disorder

In addition to avoiding the types of comments above, there are other things that you can do to support a loved one who has bipolar disorder. This support can be particularly important when someone is experiencing a mood episode.

Listen

You don't always need to know exactly what to say. Oftentimes, one of the best things you can do is simply be willing to listen. Try being supportive and compassionate when they share their worries, frustrations, and other concerns.

Provide Practical Support

In addition to being a source of emotional support, you can also lend a hand in practical ways. During mood episodes, people with bipolar disorder may struggle to keep up with the demands of daily life. Ask if you can help them with things like errands and making sure bills are paid.

Encourage Treatment Adherence

Treatment for bipolar disorder often includes medication and psychotherapy. You can support your friend by offering to take them to their therapy appointments and encouraging them to take their medication. 

Research suggests that about half of all people with bipolar disorder stop adhering to their treatment to some degree. This can cause symptoms to worsen and can be risky when people experience mood episodes or increased suicidality.

Social support has been shown to be an important factor affecting treatment adherence, so being supportive and optimistic about your loved one's treatment outlook can make a real difference.

Have a Plan

Because bipolar disorder is often unpredictable and can change quickly, it is important to have a plan for what you can do if your friend is engaging in risky behavior or is feeling suicidal. Create a plan with your friend to determine what steps you can take in these situations to help.

Doing things like holding on to credit cards, checkbooks, and cash can help minimize the financial harm caused by impulsive episodes. Knowing when to stay with your friend and when to seek medical attention are also essential parts of a good safety plan.

Recap

When someone you care about has bipolar disorder, you can help by listening and offering support. Encourage them to stick to their treatment and have a plan for how to help them during a mood episode.

A Word From Verywell

Take care to avoid saying insensitive phrases to a person with bipolar disorder, or really, to anyone. Let your words be encouraging and supportive, without marginalizing people with psychiatric disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that you can help someone with bipolar disorder by being patient, encouraging them to talk, and spending your time listening instead. Invite them to join in fun activities. Understand that they may have mood swings. Listen to them and also let them know that it's possible to feel better with patience and the right treatment.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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