Given the complex nature of bipolar disorder, treating the condition can be difficult for patients, their families, and the medical professionals that specialize in this field. If your knowledge of bipolar disorder is so far limited, take the time to check out the first part of our series where we looked at the question of what is bipolar disorder and at what causes the condition.
You will realize that this complexity comes from the balance we need to find between managing the manic side of bipolar and the depressive side. The difficulty for all involved comes from no two cases ever being the same. Some may suffer from very mild episodes of mania but a deep depressive cycle, while others may see the reverse, and not have severe depression but find that their manic episodes make them a danger to themselves and those around them. Whether mania or depression is your dominant symptom will influence the treatments that are best for you.
Coming to Terms With Bipolar Disorder
The biggest thing you will need to deal with if you are suffering from bipolar disorder is that it will always be with you. If you have a period of months, even years, when you feel happy and balanced, you still have bipolar disorder. For that reason, you do have the possibility of a doctor recommending you never stop taking medication, seeing a therapist, or following whatever course of treatment you are prescribed. At the same time, you could well be able to manage your condition to such an extent that the medication and long-term treatment required is minimal.
A psychiatrist or your regular doctor may guide your treatment, and once it is under control you will often have choices yourself around which path to follow.
However, do not be fooled into thinking it is a case of “oh, I have bipolar disorder,” the physician writes a prescription and away you go. There is much more to it than that, and having the required level of patience as you try one drug, and then another, perhaps over a period of weeks and months, is a huge challenge.
You will need a positive outlook and a strong support network around you, as it can be tempting to give up and just live with your symptoms even though that could potentially have disastrous consequences.
How might your bipolar disorder be treated?
Although hospitalization is most common when a person suffering a manic episode is deemed a danger to themselves and others, it can also be effective in helping people to be calm and relax while they are in the midst of a deep depression, and be more receptive to any medication they have been prescribed.
Depending on your circumstances, it could be recommended that you attend hospital as a day patient to receive specific treatment, especially following diagnosis when you are perhaps struggling to come to terms with bipolar disorder.
We are putting together a definitive list of popular medications prescribed to bipolar disorder patients, but have summarized the types of medication you can expect to be dealing with here.
As you know, bipolar disorder consists of mood highs and lows, often a long time apart, but also often in short succession and even at the same time. Again, it is different for everyone.
Often the manic side of the condition is harder to prescribe drugs for dealing with. It is much more difficult to know to what extent a person exhibits this behavior than if they are depressed, for example. These types of medication, termed mood stabilizers, can range from reasonably simple brain rebalancing compounds to powerful anticonvulsants and antipsychotic drugs. There is still a lot of research going into these, especially those that are fast acting, yet they are becoming more of a necessity for those in immediate danger because of their behavior.
Although antidepressants are mood stabilizers, too, they usually fall into a category of their own when it comes to talking about bipolar disorder, because they deal with a different range of symptoms. Antidepressants, such as Prozac, are often prescribed in conjunction with a drug to combat mania. Clinical studies have shown, however, that in isolated cases, the taking of an antidepressant can actually induce manic behavior. Unfortunately, there is no way to know whether this will happen to you until you start taking the drug.
Because of this, some doctors and psychiatrists shy away from prescribing antidepressants completely, especially if they have already given powerful drugs to deal with manic episodes.
While some psychological treatment may be recommended, there is no clinical evidence that, used on its own, it can have a lasting impact on the symptoms of bipolar disorder. There is evidence, however, that psychological treatment does have an effect on how successful the body is at reacting to a variety of medications, specifically those that deal with mania, although it is suggested that it is only women who enjoy such benefits.
The main purposes of psychology in terms of dealing with bipolar disorder is usually around better recognition of symptoms, and communicating thoughts and feelings better those close to you. This method of treatment is often sought as it can be done so independently of your regular physician, so you can visit a social worker or a counselor that you may already be familiar with. Becoming an ‘expert’ on your condition is often the best way to come to terms with it and understand what you can do to avoid being trapped by bipolar disorder, or indeed any medical condition.
Managing Your Lifestyle
Separate from medicine and psychological treatment plans, your doctor will likely recommend that you make changes to your life that will help you to manage your bipolar disorder better.
Ideas likely to be suggested to you include embarking on an exercise regime – exercise has been proven via many studies to make a positive difference to mental health. Putting yourself in situations that are likely to reduce your stress levels, or even following a certain type of diet are also recommended by many health professionals, although there is no evidence from human trials that the latter can influence depression and bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder, particularly in cases that have gone undiagnosed, can often lead to a person falling into a substance abuse habit. This is known as a means of ‘self-medication,’ and as such a number of bipolar disorder patients require treatment for their substance dependencies during the early stages of treatment. Various studies have shown differing levels of substance abuse among bipolar disorder patients, with fluctuations from a low 5% to a seemingly high 60%.
We can deduce that there is a substance abuse/bipolar disorder link, however with such varying numbers it is impossible to put a true and accurate figure on it. A number of other factors, such as environment and how soon a diagnosis is reached will influence whether a bipolar patient becomes substance dependent.
There is no doubt that having to live the rest of our life with bipolar disorder can be a daunting prospect. At the same time, bipolar disorder is wholly manageable so long as we are dedicated to following our treatment path. Always remember that the condition itself alters our mind, so we could feel like stopping treatment when in fact that could be the worst thing to do. A strong support network is almost as important as your own determination when it comes to dealing with bipolar disorder.
Later, we will move on to discuss the specific medications that popularly prescribed for dealing with bipolar disorder, including an analysis of their benefits and potential side effects.