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Secrets PG-13
Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Tue Apr 24, 2012 08:23 PM

So I'm afraid my girlfriend might be bipolar. A mild form, I would think, but the symptoms are there - she goes from being depressed to the point of suicidal, feeling worthless and like everything is meaningless and everyone hates her, to being completely fine - feeling motivated and so optimistic about everything. Sometimes her depressive moods last weeks or months. Sometimes she is in a yelling and screaming rage and literally minutes later she is acting normal again like nothing happened. It's kind of terrifying.

She's had issues with depression in the past - has been on some very mild anti-depressants, but I don't think she's ever talked to anyone who specializes in mental health or really described all of her symptoms.

She also has two small children (not mine) that are often a major part of her mood swings. One minute she's freaking out that she has no life outside of her children and saying how impossible her responsibilities are and how nothing will ever get better to posting pictures of them on facebook saying things like the kids are the source of all her happiness and she can get through the day because of them.

So that's all happening. I guess I'm really asking for some advice because I want to bring up to her that she should see someone about these issues. I don't want her to be going through this and feeling this way if she doesn't have to - if there is medicine or counseling or both that can help her.

Every time I've hinted at it in the past, she has freaked out and been so angry at me - saying she has reasons to feel the way she does and it isn't because she's sick and that I'm just being insensitive and not caring. A lot of the time she does have reasons to feel mad or sad (we all do), but I feel like her reactions are just completely out of control and not proportional to the actual situation.

I don't know how to help or what to say to her :( Any advice?

19 Replies to Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?

re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By AlwaysOnStagePremium member Comments: 7417, member since Sun Apr 18, 2004
On Tue Apr 24, 2012 08:33 PM
Well, if I were your girlfriend, I'd be a little pissed at you, too. You're not a therapist, and you're trying to diagnose her!

My advice is to tell her the truth: that when she is at her low points, her behavior scares you. Because of that you want her to seek help to help make the low points less low. Mood fluctuations ARE normal, but such extreme lows are something to be concerned about regardless of relationship status, diagnosis, or even reasons. Most people who have very good reasons for feeling depressed, worthless, and hated will seek help and there's nothing wrong with seeking help. It's possible just talking it out will help, and it's possible that further methods of psychotherapy or psychiatry could be of use.

After you let her know that you want this because you want her to feel more in control during hard times, and once you've said your peace, then realize that it's not your decision to make. It's up to you to decide where her behavior plays a roll in your relationship (i.e. when is 'too much' and you break up), but unless she is at risk to harm her children, it's her decision not yours.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By SammyAnnmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3547, member since Sun Aug 08, 2004
On Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:29 PM
Yes, trying to diagnose her yourself is definitely not the best way to go. If there's anything I've learned from studying psychology in college, it's that mood disorders (and many other psychological disorders) can be difficult to diagnose and have pretty stringent diagnostic indicators that are completely different than what you had thought them to be, so what you may think is bipolar may be depression or vice versa. Also, saying that you think she has a mental illness like that can seem very accusatory. I agree with the above poster in that you should let her know that you're worried about her and urge her (in a supportive way) to seek treatment - not for depression or bipolar disorder but just to work out whatever is making her so depressed. Let the professional take care of the rest. Also, remember that it is completely up to her to seek treatment, and that she may just not be ready to face it. Good luck!
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help? (karma: 1)
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 15032, member since Thu Feb 14, 2002
On Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:34 PM
First of all, those are not symptoms of bipolar disorder. The term is widely misused, so please stop using it in that manner right now.

For some reason I can't find the full text of the DSM-IV criteria for bipolar, but it is quite complex. The longest quote I could find was here.

Essentially, there are 2 types of bipolar. The one you hear about most often is called Bipolar I. This is characterized by cycles through both mania and depression. Those are both very specific terms, and are not just “a good mood” and “a bad mood.” NIMB explains this well here. Nothing you described sounded like a manic episode.

Most importantly, these are not sudden changes. The episodes last for a long time. Even rapid-cycling bipolar has episodes spanning a range of days. If a mood change happens on a dime, within minutes, a sudden switch from one state to another, that is NOT a sign of bipolar. Bipolar moods do NOT change that suddenly and it may be a strong indication that you’re dealing with something else entirely.


I’m with AlwaysOnStage: if I were your girlfriend, I would be pissed as hell reading this post. It is not your place to secretly diagnose your girlfriend (without so much as googling the terms you’re using), to judge her moods and reactions and feelings.

If she has been on antidepressants before, I would strongly hope that she has, in fact, talked to a psychiatrist. There is a good chance that she has. I would want to know more about what went on there before giving you any specific advice.

As for how to have that conversation with her: I know there are websites out there with plenty of advice on this, and for some reason I’m coming up with nothing. What the hell?? I know I’ve seen these kinds of pages before. Hmm, I’m going to have to come back and try again later. For now, though, I’d start here.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
Original Poster Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 07:05 AM
Hi, this is the OP -

I really thank you for your comments, they make complete sense. I haven't ever mentioned to her that I specifically thought that she's bipolar - in the past I've just mentioned that she may want to "talk to someone." You're right I know less than a little bit about bipolar disorder beyond reading lists of symptoms online. I think I was trying to find a diagnosis more for myself - so instead of staring at this big, scary unknown something, I could put a name to it, like that might make it more manageable.

Heart - When she was prescribed anti-depressants before it was by an OB/GYN who believed she had post-partum depression. The only time as an adult that she's spoken to a psychiatrist was for marriage counseling years ago - that psychiatrist actually did suggest she try out some medication, but that just made her angry and she walked out.

I have been on anti-depressants before myself and I know what it feels like to think you can never, ever get better. I don't think she's like weak or anything - I just think that if you have bronchitis, you go to the doctor and get medicine to feel better. But when something like this depression is going on, that suddenly becomes so scary. I just want her to feel better....

Thank you again, for all your advice really. The different/outside perspective really helps.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 07:14 AM
I totally agree with Heart that bipolar disorder is not well understood. My long-term boyfriend has it, so I've come to understand it pretty well! From my experience people tend to understand the depressive phase much more than they understand the manic phase. A lot of people seem to think the manic phase is the opposite of the depressed phase, i.e. being in a good mood instead of being in a really horrible one, but that's not it at all!

When my boyfriend is in a manic phase he becomes almost hyperactive: he can't sit still, can't concentrate, doesn't really want/need to sleep, gets extremely bored and restless very quickly, and he even talks more quickly, like his thoughts are constantly racing! The restlessness and constant need for stimulation mean he craves 'goal orientated' behaviour, and can get really caught up in things he's decided he wants to achieve.

That probably sounds like it is a nightmare to be with somebody who is bipolar but there are good sides too. When he is in a manic phase all the energy he has can be very charismatic, he also can be very spontaneous and romantic. So you see, it is a lot more than just being happy! Heart is also right in saying these phases last a lot longer (think a few days at a minimum) than you are reporting. Having moods that change multiply times over the course of the day is not really what people with bipolar disorder experience.

It doesn't sound like your girlfriend has any symptoms of a manic phase, but it does sound like she is stressed out and struggling, and I bet the challenges of two young children don't help! Perhaps she is depressed, just because she has moments of seeming okay doesn't mean that isn't possible, you don't have to be at your lowest point 100% of the time to be depressed.

That being said, none of us here are mental health professionals, and I would agree with everyone else who has warned you away from trying to diagnose her. If I were you I would tell her that you're worried about her, ask her what would be the most helpful thing for you to do, let her know that you care for her and that you want to support her.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 07:25 AM
Is there really anything wrong with a boyfriend being concerned about his girlfriend and, when she refuses to seek help or even admit that there's a problem, he does a bit of research and then asks about it within a community that he knows, know more than he does? He's not trying to "diagnose" her for flip's sake, he's trying to help her and she won't let herself be helped. He's found a disorder that seems to fit and he's anonymously asking whether that's likely or not. Chill out. Many of you have suffered with mental health but many others have been the support mechanism for someone suffering, and it can make you feel desperate, afraid and frustrated. So let's get off his back and give him some real-world advice on what he can do for his girlfriend.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By AlwaysOnStagePremium member Comments: 7417, member since Sun Apr 18, 2004
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 07:36 AM
^ Did you read the whole thread? The OP seemed chill with the advice given and was able to take what applied to him and not get wrapped up in the rest.

I also notice you didn't give any advice.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 08:13 AM
I'm not the same anon from up there.

I have been on both sides of this situation, the one down in the well and the one up at the top trying to help my SO up out of it by just being there and waiting.

OP, no one else has said this to you but I will now.

Thank you, so much, for caring this much about her and for sticking around despite the obstacles. I had to tell my husband this just the other day. Sometimes we forget that it isn't just hard for us, it is just as hard for the other person waiting and not knowing what to do.

It is very important that when it gets this way, especially when children are involved, that we get the help we need. I really think she needs to talk to a professional but if you've tried to talk to her and she's flipped out on you, that isn't really fair to you, either. And until she is ready to get some help there isn't really anything anyone else can do for her.

I wish you all the best. This is hard.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 09:13 AM
As someone with bipolar (bipolar 2 to be specific), I can say that the manic phases are not always enjoyable or fun. In fact, for me, they never are. Yes, I have more energy, need less sleep and am more productive, but I'm also SUPER irritable and everyone and everything bothers me and I am not a pleasant person to be around. Just saying.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By d4jmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 12490, member since Fri Aug 27, 2004
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 10:26 AM
OP, I think you are sensitive, caring and concerned and I don't think in any way that you were trying to diagnose your girlfriend. It's ok to search for words to try and describe someone's behavior. And these days, using the term 'bipolor' immediately brings a picture to mind that is helpful in describing the situation - whether it is a correct 'diagnosis' or not. I hope you are able to have a good conversation with your girlfriend. Reveal your heart - your fears and concerns more than any "I think you are" or "I think you should" and be there for her as much as possible. Offer to help with the kids if you are not already doing so.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help? (karma: 1)
By madseasonPremium member Comments: 1975, member since Wed Jan 04, 2006
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 01:13 PM
I have a professor (psychiatrist) who likes to say that EVERYONE thinks they are bipolar and to some extent, we all are. Literally. We all have ups and downs... especially when we are about 15-25 because of the hormonal changes and changes in the brain. Mood swings for most young people are normal and just a part of life and many of us start to find more stability when we reach our mid twenties. Many women, due to hormonal shifts throughout the month, have even more mood swings.

On the other hand there is REAL bipolar disorder. I work in a hospital and I have seen someone who was totally delusional smearing feces on the wall and screaming that they were president of the universe (while manic) and this same patient would slip into catatonic depression and have to be force fed after a while because he just would not eat or drink. That is BPD I (type one). Most BPDI people are diagnosed after being hospitalized for doing something dangerous, irrational or sometimes even just plain bizarre.

My dear friend Jack has been diagnosed with type one and type two at different times. I am not sure what the final type was decided, but he is bipolar. His mania is fun for about two to four days. Then, because he hasn't slept for any of that time, he starts seeming sick, angry, scared, aggressive. He doesn't really sleep when manic because he thinks he doesn't need to and after a while he pays the price. He always wants to paint, go for a run, talk politics, sing, build stuff, drink, explore, cook, talk and talk and talk ALL AT ONCE. His speech when manic skips from one thing to the next unpredictably. Like: "I bought a bunch of lemons, so we can make lemon-aid. That a big table. You know what is the best band? The Beatles, OH MY GOD beetles, some beetles have wings! This is cold." It's really hard to follow.

When he does want to sleep, he cannot, and tends to go do stupid things like climb on the roof or make everyone pizza at 3am. The best description he ever gave me of mania was that his brain is like twenty radio stations going at once and he cannot turn any of them off. Mania can feel good, but it can also be awful.

When Jack is depressed he just sleeps, hardly eats, cannot express himself, feels totally apathetic, cannot appreciate anything in life and thinks everything is dull, fake and lifeless. He has a total lack of affect. Bad depression usually ends in suicidal depression and off to the ER he goes. Then there are mixed episodes and rapid cycling which are nightmarish, for him, and those who love him. He finally found the right medication combo and has stabled out a bit but this disorder is pure hell.

Bipolar disorder is very 'trendy' right now and lots of people are going to therapists because they think they have it or they think their kid has it. They think being moody or having mood swings is the same as BPD. Many unethical doctors are thrilled to pass out the diagnosis right and left because that guarantees pharmaceutical kickbacks and a regular patient. As someone going into this field, I have to say- always do your research and understand what you are taking and/or what you are being diagnosed with. What you describe sounds more to me like stress and issues caused by situation (not biological) issues. She feels she has no life outside her kids...well, maybe she doesn't and is unhappy about that. That's not a mental illness. I'm sure therapy could really help her sort things out though and address any issues she does have. You sound very sweet and supportive and I'm sure that will be very helpful to her.
Best of luck to you!
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Mendelmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 1920, member since Wed Feb 23, 2005
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 05:04 PM
You sound like you're very caring and trying to do your best to handle a difficult situation. I can't add much more to the helpful advice given here. I just wanted to point out that pharmaceutical kick-backs mentioned above are expressly illegal in the US (both in private practice and especially in academic medicine), so if anyone has reason to suspect that's going on, it should be dealt with appropriately.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 05:17 PM
I agree with MadSeason because I could see how just stress could cause a lot of that in a person. I still think you should express your concern during her very low, depressed periods, BUT she might just need a break from life. Even for an hour a week for a yoga class or book club or something just for her to recharge her batteries could help. Mother's Day is coming up, so it might be a good time to treat her to something that would also get her out of the house and away from her kids for a bit and see if it helps.

She might be more receptive if you make it about her taking time for herself instead of her mood or seeing someone. "Girlfriend, you haven't had a night out in a while, maybe you should ______(go out with your friends/try that zumba class you keep wanting to/get a manicure) while I watch the kids on Friday" or whatever it is that could give her a break. If that helps significantly, you might be able to avoid some of the drama by trying to be a little more conscious of her stress levels and what you can do to help out and I bet 3/4 of it is super small and easy. For me, it was instant relief when I came home from a 15 hour day and my friend had brought over dinner since they knew I didn't have time to eat all day. Another time it was someone cleaning out the dishwasher for me. I remember those times because it was something small that made a huge difference in my day and gave me one less thing to worry about.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 06:35 PM
I think it's awesome that you care so much for your girlfriend and her well being. I would talk to her about her problems when she calm and rational not when she is upset. Unless she is diagnoised by a doctor we don't know if she is truly bipolar or not.

Your girlfriend is experiencing some kind of psychological issues because of her being suicidal but a lot of what she's feeling could be hormone flucuations. She is a single mom of two children and I'm sure she does feel overwhelmed and trapped sometimes but I think that's normal.

As someone who goes through "psychological episodes" it's hard having someone point out your issues especially when you are feeling crazy. My highs and lows are crazy. My highs I can get anything done and I'm so organized and happy. My lows are the worst possible thing imaginable to me. I go from panic attacks, to self destructive to suicial thoughts to freaking out. I don't understand logic or reasoning during those episodes.

Just be there for her and let her know that you care.

My friend's girlfriend was diagnoised as bipolar a few years back and when she is off her medication--look out.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Wed Apr 25, 2012 08:13 PM
I just want to say as a Mom myself my children are my main source of strength and happiness AND I'm over burdened, over stressed and wish for a life of my own. The 2 feelings are not mutually exclusive of one another. Many Moms struggle with the same feelings. Giving so much energy to children is draining and it's easy to lose your sense of self.
Your girlfriend could be experiencing intense PMS cycles, or a stress disorder. You don't have the knowledge to diagnose her but you can encourage her to talk to someone. Just explain that you see how hard she's working and you want to give her a chance to talk to someone who might be able to help her. Perhaps even offering to watch the kids so she can do something for herself would go a long way toward easing her burden.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Anonymousmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
Original Poster Comments: 27664, member since Fri Aug 03, 2001
On Thu Apr 26, 2012 08:40 AM
This is the OP again -

It has been so great to read all of your responses. Especially thank you to those wishing me well, I really appreciate it.

I have been taking in what you are all saying and it seems to me the best thing to do is do my best to take some of the load off, avoid mentioning anything about actually being "bipolar" (which now reading your posts she probably doesn't have specifically that problem), and try to talk more in terms of my being worried rather than saying anything like it's all something that is wrong with her.

Because it's not that something is "wrong" with her, but I do still think she needs help. I know being a mom is stressful, but it shouldn't be stressing her out to the point of feeling suicidal and worthless all the time. That I know for sure is not good. So whatever the issue is, I hope she will agree to just go talk to someone just to try it out and maybe it will help.

It has just been taxing on our relationship because she often misinterprets what I'm saying as an attack on her or that I don't love her enough or don't care. It gets exhausting to have to censor myself and tread lightly around her when I just want to be myself. I'm kind of freaking out gearing up for a fight, but I think a big, open conversation is going to have to happen anyway.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By AlwaysOnStagePremium member Comments: 7417, member since Sun Apr 18, 2004
On Thu Apr 26, 2012 08:48 AM
Perhaps, on that note, you can let her pick the "time and place". Let her know that you want to have a long, open, non-fighting talk about how she's feeling (as well as your relationship) and let her know that you want her to pick the time and place because you want her to feel comfortable...letting her choose when she is strongest and meet her there.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Celebrianmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 7921, member since Thu Mar 31, 2005
On Thu Apr 26, 2012 09:19 AM
Edited by Celebrian (127245) on 2012-04-26 09:20:48
My husband did this a few times and I didn't even realize it until he pointed it out later. Have her sit on a surface, couch, chair, wherever. You sit below her and look up into her face when she speaks. Subconsciously it makes the other person feel less like you are there to threaten or attack them with words and they open up and relax more. I can only speak for myself, though. When I am 'unwell', this does a lot for me being able to get the words out when my husband speaks to me about how I'm doing. It might help. If not, see if you can at least be eye to eye when you speak, as in eye-level with her.
re: Afraid my Girlfriend is Bipolar - Help?
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 15032, member since Thu Feb 14, 2002
On Thu Apr 26, 2012 02:03 PM
I don't have time to type it all out now but I have a bunch of stuff on using nonjudgmental, nonattacking language. Being sensitive to criticism or anything that sounds remotely like criticism is a trait of BPD, which is partly what I have, so there's a bunch of strategies and things to use. if I'm not back later on tonight shoot me a PM and I'll put something together