How Do Couples Best Cope with Bipolar Disorder?

Unfortunately, as a result, emotions in bipolar disorder often become suspect, as people may question whether feelings are “real” or because of the illness. Suicide rates in bipolar disorder are double that in major depressive disorder, also called “unipolar depression” (Chen & Dilsaver, 1996), with suicide attempts in up to 50% of bipolar patients (Jamison, 2000), and death from suicide reportedly as high as 20%. (Tondo, Isacsson & Baldessarini, 2003).

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be difficult as treatment is sought for depression rather than hypomania, and so appropriate treatment is often delayed. Even when a proper diagnosis has been made, it can be challenging to find medications and other treatments which are both effective and acceptable. Those with bipolar disorder may find remaining in treatment a challenge, especially when it comes to taking medications which may blunt the appealing aspects of the illness and while possibly causing significant negative side-effects and medical complications.

Couples with bipolar disorder

Understandably, bipolar disorder presents challenges for couples because of the range of symptoms, lack of stability over time, consequences of behaviors and impairment from mania and depression, and difficulty finding and maintaining effective treatment. Divorce and separation are 2 to 3 times more common among couples with a bipolar partner (Kogan et al., 2004), bringing home the damage the condition can cause to relationships. Couples deal with recurring episodes of depression, mania and other symptoms, feelings of helplessness, difficulty with closeness due to the need to manage emotions carefully, and a tendency to use denial to manage the impact of the illness on the relationship and their lives (Ablon et al., 1975), though denial may be less prominent (and necessary) as more effective treatment has become available.

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