Your Guide to Treating Bipolar Disorder

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8 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Bipolar Disorder

  • Young Caucasian woman looking sad with therapist
    Expert Insight on Living With Bipolar Disorder
    Bipolar disorder, what used to be called manic/depressive disorder, is a brain disorder that affects almost 6 million American adults. Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on the phase, either depressive or manic. Bipolar disorder can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. Here are 8 tips doctors wish their patients with bipolar disorder knew, to help them better manage their illness, and to live a full life.
  • Unseen female woman comforts unseen female friend with hand on shoulder
    1. “Bipolar disease isn’t something to keep secret.”
    “People with bipolar disorder respond better to treatment if they have the support of their friends and loved ones,” says Ayo Afejuku Gathing, MD. “This isn’t something you should be embarrassed or ashamed about.” Dr. Gathing, who is medical director of behavioral health at Molina Healthcare of Texas, says she often meets with family members and friends of her patients to help explain the illness, if that will help their understanding.
  • mature woman taking medication, round white pills
    2. “It may take time to find the right treatment combination.”
    Treating bipolar disorder can be tricky. “Everyone responds to medication differently,” explains Dion Metzger, MD, a psychiatrist and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. You may need to try different types of medications at various doses to find what works for you. Patients need to keep an open mind and work with their doctor to find medications that are a good fit, says Dr. Metzger.
  • middle aged Caucasian woman taking notes on paper and talking on smartphone in front of laptop
    3. “Your medication needs may change over time.”
    When you’ve been taking medications for bipolar disorder for a while, you may develop side effects, or the drugs might stop being as effective as they were. “The goal is always to use the best treatments available for clients that allow them to be fully engaged in their daily activities,” explains Damien M. Larkins, MD, a psychiatrist in Houston. “This may mean medications have to be changed.” Always talk to your doctor before stopping or changing any medication so you can work together to find a more effective treatment for you.
  • Friends enjoying a meal
    4. “You can live a full life with bipolar disorder.”
    Bipolar disorder affects people from all walks of life, including CEOs, doctors, nurses, and teachers, says Dr. Gathing. “These people are out there. It’s not just you. This isn’t something you should be ashamed about.” You can lead a functional, healthy lifestyle if you work with your team (both healthcare professionals and your own support team), and follow your treatment plan.
  • Senior Woman and granddaughter preparing salad
    5. “A healthy lifestyle boosts the treatment effects.”
    Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol can all help increase your chances of a successful treatment for any type of illness—including bipolar disorder—but a healthy lifestyle also involves your home environment and your relationships, says Dr. Metzger. “The company you keep is very important,” she says. For example, people who are in a manic phase may spend time with people who encourage risky behavior, so it’s important to keep a support network of trusted friends and family.
  • woman-staring-at-pills-in-hands
    6. “Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, requiring regular monitoring and treatment.”
    Just as people with hypertension or diabetes need constant monitoring, so do people with bipolar disorder. After you’ve found the right drug combination for you and you’re feeling better, this is not the time to stop taking the medication. “A lot of people say that they think they don’t need the medication anymore because they’re doing great, but I want them to understand that they’re feeling great because of the effectiveness of the medication,” explains Dr. Metzger.
  • woman sitting at cafe table with newspaper
    7. “Bipolar disorder isn’t ‘as seen on TV.’”
    Television shows and movies tend to dramatize the worst of many illnesses—this draws the audiences in. But for most people, living with bipolar disease isn’t as dramatic as the producers of these shows would like us to believe. “I want my patients to know that you can get your baseline and not necessarily have that theatrical, dramatic, chaotic life that they sometimes see and hear about in the popular media,” says Dr. Gathing.
  • women-at-restaurant-laughing-with-drinks
    8. “Ask for help if you feel you need it.”
    Emergencies happen. People may feel very depressed or even have thoughts of suicide or causing harm. Here is where a strong support system also comes in. “Whenever possible, I encourage patients to have a close, trusted family member or friend involved in their care who can help identify concerns and maintain safety,” says Dr. Larkins. “If a client's safety is jeopardized, then he or she or a companion should call 911, and as best as possible clearly state the nature of the emergency.”
8 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Bipolar Disorder
Contributors

About The Author

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has been writing health information for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience writing about health issues like sepsis, cancer, mental health issues, and women’s health. She is also author of the book Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Medications and How to Take Them Safely.
  1. Bipolar Disorder Statistics. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_bipolar_disorder
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 23
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