Lived experience advice: How can physicians, friends and family best support patients with bipolar disorder?

What type of social support do patients with bipolar disorder find most empowering? Valuable insights were provided at an Experts by Experience presentation at ISBD 2020 by Michael Pollock, chief executive officer for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), who supports his sister living with bipolar disorder, and Kim Harol, president of the DBSA Revere chapter and a long-time DBSA group facilitator, who has lived experience of bipolar disorder.

What can clinicians do?

Good support can make a difference to recovery and quality of life

Clinicians can provide empowering support for patients with bipolar disorder by paying attention and remembering important details, such as names of family and friends, collaborating with treatment options and creating a crisis plan, said Kim Harol.

She also highlighted the importance of being available in emergencies, including family at appointments, the mutual establishment and monitoring of health boundaries, and enquiring about sleep hygiene, medications, regular routine, diet and mood.

Clock-watching, over- or under-prescribing, and not warning about or paying attention to side effects are not helpful, she added.

What can friends and family do?

Good support and encouragement are empowering

Both Michael Pollock and Kim Harol emphasized the importance of support that is encouraging and does not involve control or micromanagement from friends and family in:

  • establishing balanced boundaries and helping with day-to-day activities including finance, sleep habits, shopping and cleaning
  • identifying and tracking behaviour that suggests a potential need for medical attention and providing assistance to access emergency care in a crisis

What can patients with bipolar disorder do?

Peer support specialists have lived experience

Kim Harol said recovery and wellness can be a full-time job and described her own lived experience in managing bipolar disorder as follows:

  • maintaining awareness of current mental health and wellbeing, sleep hygiene, exercise, daily routine, diet and social activities, including friendships with peer groups
  • practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga and self-care
  • documenting mood charts and medication changes

Who can provide support in a crisis?

With support groups, patients with bipolar disorder feel better informed, have improved acceptance of their mental health condition

The DBSA1 was founded 35 years ago to offer peer support, said Michael Pollock. It also offers wellness support and empowering services and resources when people in the United States need them, where they need them, and how they need to receive them—online 24/7, in local support groups, in audio and video casts, or in printed materials.2

He highlighted the results of a DBSA support group impact survey in 2019, which demonstrated that participants felt better informed, had improved acceptance of their mental health condition, were more confident about treatment, and felt increased optimism and control over the future.


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Our correspondent’s highlights from the symposium are meant as a fair representation of the scientific content presented. The views and opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of Lundbeck.


  1. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Accessed 28 June 2020.