Question: How do I know whether my family member with bipolar disorder needs professional or emergency help?
Answer: It's important for friends and family members of people with bipolar disorder to be aware of what's going on with that person. This is because many of the symptoms, feelings, and behaviors that the people with bipolar disorder experience can be dangerous. The usual list of circumstances when intervention can be needed includes suicidal thinking, homicidal thinking, or thoughts about harming others or an inability to care for oneself. If the person has been talking about wishing to die or thinking about suicide or making suicidal plans, that's the time to intervene and get that person professional help. This can take the form of taking that person to the emergency room-- if the danger is acute enough-- or talking to the person's treaters and trying to raise awareness that this issue is going on.
In other circumstances, especially during manic episodes when people are irritable, their thoughts are racing, they can start feeling like they're in some danger and the way to get out of this danger is by trying to hurt someone else and that's clearly another instance where friends and family members should intervene to keep everybody safe by getting that person help.
Finally there are situations where an inability to care for self can become so dangerous that even though the person isn't trying to hurt themselves or hurt anybody else, that may be the outcome. Some examples of this include driving so unsafely that the person is at some real risk of hurting themselves or anybody else. Another example is alcohol or substances abuse when the person with bipolar disorder is having such major problems with these conditions that they are actually putting themselves in some medical risk or they're behaving in a dangerous way. Those are the situations where friends and family members should consider getting this person help in the form of professional help or even taking them to the emergency room.