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Like other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder is hard on spouses, family members, friends, and employers. Family members of people with bipolar disorder often have to cope with serious behavioural problems (such as wild spending sprees) and the lasting consequences of these behaviours. If symptoms cause an individual to become aggressive, or unable to fulfil their responsibilities, family members may well become angry with the individual.

Family members often experience feelings of extreme guilt after the individual is diagnosed. They are concerned about having had angry or hateful thoughts, and many wonder whether they somehow caused the illness by being un-supportive or short-tempered, although this is not the case.

People with bipolar disorder should be cared for by a psychiatrist skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease. Other mental health professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatric social workers, can assist in providing the patient and his or her family with additional approaches to treatment.

Often people with bipolar disorder do not recognise how ill they are, or blame their problems on some cause other than mental illness. They often need encouragement from family and friends to seek treatment; the family physician can make the first assessment. If the person is in the middle of a severe episode, he or she may have to be committed to a hospital for his or her own protection and for much needed treatment. Anyone who is considering suicide needs immediate attention from a family doctor or mental health specialist. With appropriate help and treatment, it is possible to overcome suicidal tendencies.

It is important for patients to understand that bipolar disorder will not go away, and that continued treatment is needed to keep the disease under control. Encouragement and support are equally as important after the person begins treatment, because it may take some time to decide what treatment regimen is best for that particular person.

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