Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterised by intense mood changes. People with bipolar can cycle through manic or euphoric episodes, and depressive or low episodes. This extreme shift in mood can also come with frustration and irritability for the person living with bipolar. Irritability is often seen during manic episodes, but it can occur at other times, too. If you know someone with bipolar, you may notice that they can become upset easily and frustrated when others try to help them, and sometimes this can escalate into anger.
When a loved one is living with bipolar disorder, they may face lots of challenges. One of those challenges may be managing their own emotions when their loved one is experiencing extreme moods. The cyclical nature of the condition can be frustrating and exhausting both for the person with bipolar and the people around them.
Anger in itself can be a tricky emotion to navigate. Research shows that people with bipolar disorder are likely to feel irritable or angry on a more frequent basis compared to those who don’t have the disorder. Increased anger and psychosis have been linked, which explains why people with bipolar who have a mood episode may be more likely to self-report as angry, irritated, or frustrated. This isn’t to say that agitation and anger are symptoms of bipolar disorder, because they are not, but those with the disorder may feel this emotion more than those who don’t have it.
Although it can be challenging to try and support someone with bipolar who is experiencing an extreme mood swing coupled with anger, try to be patient and refrain from confrontation if possible as this can exacerbate negative emotions further.
In this blog, we’re going to talk more about bipolar disorder and anger, and how you can support someone living with bipolar and experiencing anger in a way that is most helpful for them and for you.
As mentioned, anger is not a direct symptom of bipolar disorder specifically, but those who have bipolar may experience feelings of irritability and anger more frequently than those who don’t have the condition. The emotional dysregulation experienced by people with bipolar disorder can tend to be unpredictable and sudden, and often disproportionate to what they are responding to. These reactions may not always be understood well by an observer.
Emotional dysregulation refers to a difficulty in being able to regulate and process emotions in an effective way. Although someone with bipolar may recognise that their response is disproportionate to what is happening, when the emotion is experienced in such an extreme way, it can be difficult to regulate, often leading to impulsive behavioural reactions. These reactions may not always be understood well by an observer. However, through better understanding, it is possible to be able to effectively support someone with bipolar who is going through an intensely emotional experience.
Supporting someone with bipolar disorder can be difficult during an extreme mood episode. Check-in with yourself to see how you are doing and ask yourself if you have the emotional availability to support them right now. If you are not in a position to support someone else, then try to step back and ask someone for support. Remember, to be truly helpful to someone else, you must help yourself first. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, seek professional support. Should you feel like you’re in a place to try and help someone cope with bipolar during an angry bout, here are some tips you might find useful.
Bipolar disorder is complex and can be difficult to manage. Try to spend time researching for more information on bipolar disorder, using reputable resources. Once you know a little more about the disorder, communicate with your loved one and try to understand how bipolar presents for them and what they have noticed helps when they are experiencing extreme moods, and ask how you can help.
It can feel like trial and error when you are supporting someone experiencing extreme moods, but once it passes, talk to them again and reflect together; on what helped, what didn’t help, what needs to change and what the plan is for the future. Try to be as collaborative as possible.
Like any mental health condition, the way bipolar disorder affects a person will change from patient to patient, so whilst having a broad understanding of the condition as a whole is important, make sure you listen to your loved one and take what they say on board.
Treatment can certainly help people with bipolar manage their symptoms, and some people go a long time without experiencing any manic or depressive episodes, but this doesn’t mean the bipolar has gone away. For most people, bipolar is a life-long condition that can be managed but not cured. It’s entirely possible for someone with bipolar disorder to live a normal life and have healthy relationships, but there has to be a level of understanding from those around them that they may need some consistent adjustments to help them achieve this.
It’s important to remain empathetic to what your loved one is feeling without ignoring or enabling unhelpful behaviour. The key lies in communication and understanding. A person with bipolar is not always able to balance their emotions in the same way that you might be able to, and they may take longer and find it more difficult to gain composure. If they’re experiencing a manic episode that is causing anger, they may need guidance and help from you or a medical professional to allow them to regulate their emotions.
We all have triggers and things that can put us into a specific mood, and the case with bipolar and anger is no different. There might be certain situations, people, or phrases that can trigger frustration and irritability. If someone with bipolar is starting to feel frustrated and irritated, tracing back to find the cause is a good way to figure out their triggers. You can also ask them what triggers certain emotional responses from them.
When you understand what might cause a person with bipolar to feel anger, you’ll feel more equipped to try and minimise their exposure to triggers and help them to keep their mood stable. If they do come across something that could potentially trigger them, you will know beforehand and can work on ways to calm them down before their mood escalates to anger.
Bipolar that is well-managed presents less symptoms, and mood changes are far less frequent compared to bipolar that is untreated. Treatment for bipolar disorder can vary from person to person and finding the right treatment plan can take time, but once your loved one has agreed on medication and treatment with their doctor, make sure they stick to it.
Sometimes, people with bipolar stop taking their medication or attending therapy sessions when they feel good, but this can be problematic and give way to further challenges later down the line. As mentioned, bipolar is a life-long condition that can be managed effectively, but that relies on sticking to treatment plans.
Try to be mindful of how you approach the subject of treatment so as to not aggravate the person. Instead, talk to them about how they can better keep on track with their medication and try to encourage them to do so in a calm but firm way, making sure you keep their well-being at the forefront of your approach.
The key to supporting with someone with bipolar is communication. Without it, you may struggle and your relationship could become fractured. For people living with bipolar, having a strong support network can be very helpful, but if they regularly display irritability, this can make it hard for them to maintain good relationships with those they care about. We can all say and do things we don’t mean when we’re angry, but someone with bipolar might not necessarily be aware of the impact of their actions in the moment, especially during a manic episode.
With this in mind, try not to argue or make the situation more tense at the time. Make a note of things the person has said or done and when their mood is more stable, have a conversation with them about how you feel. Making others aware of the impact of their behaviours can help them take accountability and bring about change.
When a person with bipolar mood disorder comes to you for a conversation about their condition and their moods, try to listen fully. You might not be able to fully understand how they feel or why they say and do the things they do during a mood episode, especially if they’re angry and you think it’s an unnecessary response, but listen. It’s important to feel heard and understood.
A lot of people with bipolar disorder benefit from seeing a therapist. If your loved one sees a therapist to help them with their mental health, it might be worth suggesting they talk through coping mechanisms for the next time they feel angry, agitated, or frustrated.
If feelings of anger are persistent, or if the person with bipolar seems to be having frequent mood episodes, it could be that they’re not on the right medication or treatment. As mentioned, bipolar is a life-long condition that requires consistent management, but it can take a long time to find the right combination of treatments to manage bipolar symptoms and mood swings. There are lots of different types of medications available to help mitigate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and there are varying dosages which may need to be tried out. Bipolar medication shouldn’t make the person feel irritable, but it can have other side effects that can be unpleasant, such as nausea.
Communicate with your loved one if you think they may need a treatment review, and encourage them to seek medical attention if you think they could benefit from a different treatment plan.
Lots of people without bipolar disorder have anger issues which can cause problems in their lives, with many needing to go to anger management therapy to better manage with their emotions. Bipolar anger can be especially hard to deal with because of the nature of bipolar itself. The effects manic and depressive episodes can have on a person with bipolar are profound, with some feeling anxious about the unpredictability of an episode, and others feeling shame or guilt following an episode.
It can also be hard for those around them. You might feel like you’re in the firing line so to speak, and this can take an emotional toll on you, too. Your well-being is just as important. If you’re not feeling your best, you won’t be able to support your loved one in the way they need. This is why learning coping mechanisms is so important.
If you or someone you know is living with bipolar disorder and you’re unsure of what to do next, we can help. Our specialist private psychiatrists have years of experience in helping people with bipolar, and their families cope with the heightened emotions the disorder can bring.
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