How Can I Help Bipolar Girlfriend?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My girlfriend had a manic/psychotic episode in Oct. As far as her parents know it was her first. She spent money, drank, didn’t sleep, was sexually promiscuous and thought she was an angel. She was put on meds and went to therapy. She stopped going to group therapy b/c she said that they all had problems. She did continue to see a therapist for a bit. She stopped b/c she did not think the therapist was helping her. She said that they would just talk for 5 min. and then would let her go. We split up during this time, but kept in contact. We decided to get back together and take it slow.

Everything was going fine, until last week. She went off her meds in Feb-Mar. She said that they were making her fat and she didnt need them anymore. I felt, and her father felt that she should be on some sort of medication. She insisted that she was better and it really did seem so. I then began to notice that she was depressed b/c she couldnt find a job. She would sometimes tell me that she would lay on the couch all day. We joined a gym so she could exercise and that seemed to help. I, however, notices she was still smoking a lot. She still drank, but would only go out once a week with her friend. Her friend decided to stop drinking. Two weeks later so did she. I also thought this was a good thing. She also began to exercise more with her friend. First it was once a day then twice then three times a day. She also began to talk really fast and smoke even more.

She then told me that I was smothering her and she wanted her independence. She needed some time to think. She was never really alone during the time she was ill. She wanted to take care of things for herself and that maybe b/c I pay the bills, I am keeping her from actually getting a job. I understood, somewhat. At the same token, I don’t want her to get a job that she doesnt like. This could possible make her have another “bad” episode. She said I need to do things by myself that is why I stopped drinking it is something that I needed to do. She said that she is sorry that she is being so selfish right now, but she needs to be. She said she is not sexually attracted to me. I tried to explain to her that these things happen in a relationship especially with what you are going through. I also talked to her about the cycle she is going through right now. She does not feel that it is a cycle b/c she is just exercising. She is obsessive about it. Is OCD a part of Bipolar? She began to cry when I was talking to her. Just like she did when the first episode happened. She was also looking at me with that look that she had before. She said at least I am not drinking and because she is not what she is doing is not destructive. Again I have talked to her. Her father has as well, b/c he is bipolar. Not sure she really understands.

She realizes that she should be on meds but she doesnt want to get fat. I tried to explain that there are different types of meds. She also said that she didnt like the way they made her feel. She was visibly upset, but I felt that I needed to talk to her about it. I told her I loved her and just wanted to see her get better and help her as much as possible. Is there anything else I can do.

A. Suggest to your girlfriend that she consider therapy. Medication could really help her with the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder but as you said, she will not stay on the medication. Maybe if she found a therapist whom she likes and trusts, with his or her help, she may be able to stabilize. You can suggest this to your girlfriend but she may not take your advice.

It seems like she is replacing one unhealthy behavior with another. She went from drinking to obsessively exercising. She is rationalizing the excessive exercising by saying “at least I am not drinking.” She is right in one respect. It is good that she is not drinking but exercising two to three times a day is most likely a sign of mania or OCD, as you mentioned. (OCD can co-occur with bipolar disorder but many of her symptoms may also be mania.)

Clearly she is in need of help. She is currently not stable and may be heading toward an episode.

My advice is this: ask her if she will consider therapy. If she is reluctant, offer to go to therapy with her, for couples therapy. Maybe she’ll go if you are willing to go as well. Also, offer to go to the doctor with her. Monitor her care if you can and try to enforce the doctor’s treatment instructions. If you become more involved in her care, she might be more willing to follow the doctor’s orders.

But also realize that there may be little that you can do. You cannot force anyone to go to treatment or take medication no matter how much you believe or know that he or she could benefit from such care.

People with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia often have difficulty recognizing the need for treatment. Family members often have to battle with their mentally ill family members in order to convince them to take the needed medication or follow the prescribed treatment plan.

You might also want to visit the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) website. NAMI is a national advocacy group that helps and supports families dealing with many of the same issues you are facing with your girlfriend.

I wish you luck. Please write again if you have any further questions.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Jun 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). How Can I Help Bipolar Girlfriend?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/06/09/q-how-can-i-help-bipolar-girlfriend/

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