Generally, people don't like asking for help – and those with bipolar are certainly no different. In fact, they may ask less often for fear of feeling like a burden, or simply not being strong enough to ask and sometimes not recognizing that they need help at all. So, be observant. Watch your friend or family member. Do they need a ride to an appointment, help with housework, cooking, running errands or maybe childcare. Not only does your helping actually help, but so does the fact that you care. It is best to ask how you can help when your friend or family member is well, rather than waiting until they're sick or in distress.
When they are sick they need encouragement. They need to be encouraged to continue with their self-care (see post on self-care) which includes following their treatment plan – such as taking their medications and attending all their medical appointments. Accept their reality and their limitations. Don't push too hard. Talk with positive statements – laughing is important, so try your hand at humour.
Offer simple companionship – people with bipolar disorder often feel like they're very alone. Your attention could make a difference. Watch for symptoms and triggers. For example, if you think the person is manic, avoid over-stimulation. If you think they are depressed perhaps encourage them to do one small thing or talk about good times. But avoid clichés – they won't help. Always reinforce strategies for coping. Self-care is such an important part of their wellness. Don't give up. Even if your friend or family member begins to isolate themselves or demonstrate impatience with you, don't give up. They need you.
Watch for signs of suicidal thinking and be willing to act to get professional help if the need arises. Reducing stress is also helpful (see post on stress). If you're worried about your friend or family member, offer to attend their appointments with them. This will give you the opportunity to discuss matters with their doctor and will also demonstrate how much you care. Stigma is huge with mental illness, so help and support is too.