My SO Has Bipolar Disorder

What do you mean by SO?

SO denotes "significant other", the spouse or partner of an individual with a specific illness or disorder.

What is a BPSO?

A BPSO is the SO of an individual diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder (manic depressive illness).

What Exactly is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Affective Disorder is a severe mental illness of affect or mood.  The individual with this illness is affected by severe depression and hypomania (or mania), or combinations thereof in a cyclical manner. 

How Do I Know if my SO has this Disorder?

The symptoms of the mood changes will be quite obvious to you.  At the low (or depressive) end of the cycle symptoms lasting at least two weeks will begin and intensify.  The hypomanic (or manic) symptoms may last of shorter or longer duration but will intensify without treatment.

Changes in Mood:  These changes predominate.  In depression you will see signs of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and possibly irritability and anxiety.  In hypomania (mania), the signs will be of happiness, optimism, euphoria, and also possible irritability.

Changes in Thinking:  Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, poor concentration, low self-esteem, indecisiveness, preoccupation with death, suicidal thinking and guilt may all appear in depression.  In mania there may be thoughts speeding through the brain, unrealistic self-confidence, difficulty concentrating, grandiose plans, delusions and hallucinations.

Changes in Behavior:  In depression either slowing down or increased restlessness will be obvious, along with crying, social withdrawal, and possible suicidal acts.  On the other hand, the manic may show clear signs of increased activity and socializing, immersion in plans and projects, rapid and pressured speech, excessive spending, impaired judgement and impulsive sexual involvement.

Changes in Physical Condition:  The depressed individual has decreased or increased appetite, disturbed sleep, decreased sexual drive, weight loss or gain, pain, digestive problems or fatigue.  The manic individual feels great usually…requires little sleep, has increased energy and fewer health complaints than normal.

Okay, I Recognize many of those Symptoms.  How can I Help?

The first thing to consider is whether your SO has been diagnosed.  If not, that must be the first step.  Your SO may be too ill to make arrangements to see a doctor, think there is nothing wrong with them, or blame all the symptoms on other things, you for example.  Your SO is not thinking clearly at this point.  You must take over here and make the appointment and go to the doctor with your SO, or to take them to the hospital if symptoms are severe and you are very concerned.  Your SO may not thank you for this initially.  If symptoms are very severe and you are unable to get your SO to hospital call the doctor, hospital, suicide crises line, mental health center or police for assistance.

What Does my Bipolar Partner Need From me?

First and foremost your support and understanding is needed.  A bipolar person in an episode is tossed like a piece of flotsam and needs your strength to hang on to.  In order for you to be supportive you must understand this disorder as well as you possibly can.  There are many ways of learning about the illness.  Listening to your SO is probably the best resource.

Sometimes I Think my SO is Using the Disorder to get her way

To be honest, unfortunately sometimes this may happen.  The best way to express your feelings and get feedback from other BPSO's is to visit support sites for other BPSO's who face the same challenges you do.

Do Other BPSO's have Trouble Coping (or is it just me?)

Rest assured that bipolar disorder is difficult for all concerned to cope with.  Your willingness to learn, participate and care will go a long way to easing the problems.  There may be times that you will have to take over and completely manage your SO's illness completely, (from medications to telling them to take a bath or shampoo their hair)  But there will also be times when the mood is stable (it does often go into remission for periods of 2-8 years or longer), and your life will proceed normally.

How do I learn more about the Illness?

Check out the Links at this site for a list of excellent Bipolar resources on the internet.  You may also want to visit John McManamy's topic Depression for more pertinent links. 

See the Bipolar Disorder Frequently Asked Questions page for excellent information.

Learn the twelve "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" about dealing with a BPSO HERE

Where do I find information and Support for BPSO's?

BPSO Public Pages  offers information and support to families, friends and loved ones of those who suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder (manic depression).  BPSO Mailing List, chat and much more. 

Beacon of Hope is a web site dedicated to the men and women who are partners of someone diagnosed with a severe Mental Illness.  Excellent resources, information and tips for dealing with crises.  Go to Beacon of Hope HERE!

Winds of Change A group of individuals, men, women, husbands, wives, relatives, friends, old, young, who all share something in common: We are all affected by Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression. This group consists of both the BP(Bipolar) and the SO(Significant Other) and will never be separated into different groups. We all learn so much from each other. 

 Visit Support  BPSO Bulletin Board to exchange messages and support with other BPSO's.

A Personal Note:

As most of you already know I have bipolar disorder and was diagnosed twenty one years ago.  I grew up with a mother diagnosed manic depressive and wish now I could turn time back in terms of the support and caring I could have offered to her if I had known the things I know now.   Any SO who supports their Bipolar partner has my utmost respect….it is certainly an enormous undertaking sometimes.

Good Luck,




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