Experiencing a depressive or manic episode is rough for everyone involved. Being the individual experiencing these episodes, you feel helpless (depressive episode) or on top of the world and invincible (manic episode). Being a bystander to someone experiencing these episodes, you feel the helplessness mixed with fear for the future and potential actions of the individual experiencing the episode. This fear and helplessness can also cause frustration; you can’t understand what is going on in either episode and no matter what you do, you can’t seem to help. This mix of emotions can often be too much and the bystander can become overwhelmed with what is going on.
Having been both the individual experiencing depressive and manic episodes and a bystander to other’s episodes, I can tell you that it is emotionally draining. However, there are a few things you can do as a bystander to help ease your own distress and the distress of the person experiencing the episodes.
Know the Symptoms
Knowing the symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes is the first step in being there for someone struggling with their mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health has information on the most common symptoms for both types of episodes. The depressive symptoms are often more noticeable than the manic episodes which can make the individual appear to be more productive but these elevated moods can cause the individual to become irritable and reckless.
Don’t Be Afraid to Communicate Concerns
Now that you have noticed the symptoms in someone, how do you communicate your concern to them? It can be difficult to tell someone that you are concerned for their well being but it might take you communicating your concern to help them overcome the episode. Some things you can say to communicate your concerns are:
- I have noticed you haven’t been sleeping lately. Is everything okay? (manic episode)
- Are you feeling okay? I noticed you haven’t been eating a lot lately/I noticed you have been eating more than normal lately. (depressive or manic episodes)
- Is there something going on? I noticed you weren’t acting like yourself and was worried about you.
The most important thing when communicating your concerns, is to make sure that the person knows you are doing it out of love not any other reason. If the person feels attacked your attempts to help may have the opposite effect.
Know When to Contact Additional Help
You hope that you will never be in a situation where the well being of your loved one is seriously threatened but if you are the best root of action may be calling in additional help. This help could be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or if the episode is one that puts the person in immediate danger you need to call 911. Calling 911 may seem extreme and the person may be angry with you for involving law enforcement but if it saves their life, it is all worth it.
These are just three things you can do as a bystander and there are many more to help be there for someone struggling with their mental health. They are good starting points but always use your judgement when trying to comfort or be there for someone struggling with their mental health. I encourage you to take the time to learn the signs of both manic and depressive states to be there for someone you care about.
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