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Getting Help and Choosing Treatments

If you think that you or someone you love is suffering from bipolar disorder, seek professional help right away. Early detection of bipolar disorder and treatment provides a better chance of getting and staying well. Seek a board certified mental health professional in your area to make sure your symptoms are related to bipolar disorder and get the professional help you need.

Treatment for bipolar disorder can provide you the opportunity to live a free and productive life, without the constant mood swings and unsurity. Effective treatment of bipolar disorder provides relief of most symptoms, reduces the intensity of many manic episodes and allows you to function in your daily life.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment: What Patients Should Know

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. It has major ups and downs. And is this goed untreated, these ups and downs can have a catastrophic affect. The recurring depressive and manic episodes make it difficult to lead a stable, productive life. In the manic phase, you may display impulsive behaviors that cause great harm to your daily life. In the depressive phase, it may be difficult to do anything at all. Early treatment and professional help can help avoid some of these problems.

Monitored treatment of bipolar disorder depends on a few things. Prescription medication alone is usually not the answer. To get the most out of any treatment it’s good to educate yourself of all possible treatments that are available to you, talk with family member and communicate openly with your therapist or doctor, consider lifestyle chances and look to secure a positive support system.

Recovery takes time and a commitment on your part. Locating the best treatment for you or your love one is very important. With proper management and a support system, you can regain control of your life.

What are some things I can do that might help me feel better?

Know the difference between your symptoms and your true self. Your health care providers can help you separate your true identity from your symptoms by helping you see how your illness affects your behavior. Be open about behaviors you want to change and set goals for making those changes.

Educate your family and friends and involve them in treatment when possible. They can help you spot symptoms, track behaviors and gain perspective. They can also give encouraging feedback and help you make a plan to cope with any future crises.

Work on healthy lifestyle choices. Recovery is also about a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular sleep, healthy eating and the avoidance of alcohol, drugs and risky behavior.

Find the treatment that works for you. Talk to your health care provider about your medications' effects on you, especially the side effects that bother you. There are many options for you to try. It is very important to talk to your health care provider first before you make any changes to your medication or schedule.

Bipolar Disorder - Exams and Tests

There are no lab tests for bipolar disorder at this time. Instead, your doctor will ask detailed questions about your symptoms, including how long they last and how often you have them. He or she will discuss your family history and may do a mental health assessment.

A mental health assessment tests your emotional functioning and your ability to think, reason and remember. It includes an interview with a health professional, a physical exam and written or verbal tests. During the interview, the health professional assesses your appearance, mood, behavior, thinking, reasoning, memory, ability to express yourself and ability to maintain personal relationships. Blood and urine tests, such as a test of your thyroid, may be done to make sure another problem is not causing your symptoms. A toxicology screen examines blood, urine or hair for the presence of drugs.

Early Detection

The earlier bipolar disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better your chances of getting the illness under control and improving the quality of your life. Early detection and treatment can help reduce your risk of complications, such as alcohol and drug abuse or suicide.

According to WebMD.com, about 10% to 15% of people with bipolar disorder will die from suicide. Up to 60% of those with bipolar disorder develop drug and alcohol abuse problems, which interfere with successful treatment of the disorder. 

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are several types of bipolar disorder. Each type is identified by the pattern of episodes of mania and depression. The treatment that is best for you may differ depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have. Your doctor will look carefully to determine where your symptoms fit.

Bipolar I Disorder (mania and depression) – Bipolar I disorder is the classic form of the illness, as well as the most severe type of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by at least one manic episode or mixed episode. The vast majority of people with bipolar I disorder have also experienced at least one episode of major depression, although this isn’t required for diagnosis.

Bipolar II Disorder (hypomania and depression) – Mania is not involved in bipolar II disorder. Instead, the illness involves recurring episodes of major depression and hypomania, a milder form of mania. In order to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, you must have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode in your lifetime. If you ever have a manic episode, your diagnosis would be changed to bipolar I disorder.

Cyclothymia (hypomania and mild depression) – Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Like bipolar disorder, cyclothymia consists of cyclical mood swings. However, the highs and lows are not severe enough to qualify as either mania or major depression. To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, you must experience numerous periods of hypomania and mild depression over at least a two-year time span. Because people with cyclothymia are at an increased risk of developing full-blown bipolar disorder, it is a condition that should be monitored and treated.

Is it Bipolar Disorder or Depression?

Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed. One cause for this is that many individuals with bipolar disorder seek treatment when they are in the most depressive state. When they’re in the manic stage, they don’t realize the problem is presenting itself. Most individuals with bipolar disorder are suffering from symptoms a greater percentage of the time than when they’re manic or hypomanic.

Being misdiagnosed with depression is a serious problem because the treatment for bipolar depression is much different from regular depression. Antidepressants can sometimes make bipolar disorder worse. Therefore, it is the best interest of the individual to see a mood disorder specialist who can help determine what is occuring. 

Acorrding to Help Guide, these are indicators that your depression is really bipolar disorder:

  • You’ve experienced repeated episodes of major depression.
  • You had your first episode of major depression before age 25.
  • You have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder.
  • When you’re not depressed, your mood and energy levels are higher than most people’s.
  • When you’re depressed, you oversleep and overeat.
  • Your episodes of major depression are short (less than 3 months)
  • You’ve lost contact with reality while depressed.
  • You’ve had postpartum depression before.
  • You’ve developed mania or hypomania while taking an antidepressant.
  • Your antidepressant stopped working after several months.
  • You’ve tried 3 or more antidepressants without success.

Exploring Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

If your therapist feels that you have the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, your therapist should provide you with treatment options and possibly prescribe medication as part of your treatment plan. Your therapist may also refer you to another mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or a bipolar disorder specialist. As a team, you should work with your healthcare providers to develop a treatment plan that works for you.

Comprehensive Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

A comprehensive treatment plan for bipolar disorder aims to relieve symptoms, restore your ability to function, fix problems the illness has caused at home and at work, and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. A complete treatment plan involves:

Medication – Medication is the cornerstone on bipolar disorder treatment. Taking a mood stabilizing medication can help minimize the highs and lows of bipolar disorder and keep symptoms under control.

Psychotherapy – Therapy is essential for dealing with bipolar disorder and the problems it has caused in your life. Working with a therapist, you can learn how to cope with difficult or uncomfortable feelings, repair your relationships, manage stress and regulate your mood.

Education – Managing symptoms and preventing complications begins with a thorough knowledge of your illness. Education is a key component of treatment. The more you and your loved ones know about bipolar disorder, the better able you will be to avoid problems and deal with setbacks.

Lifestyle Management – By carefully regulating your lifestyle, you can keep symptoms and mood episodes to a minimum. This involves maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding alcohol and drugs, following a consistent exercise program, minimizing stress, and keeping your sunlight exposure stable year round.

Support – Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, and having a solid support system in place can make all the difference in your outlook and motivation. Participating in a bipolar disorder support group gives you the opportunity to share your experiences and learn from others who know what you’re going through. The support of friends and family is also invaluable.

Medication Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Most people with bipolar disorder need medication in order to keep their symptoms under control. When medication is continued on a long-term basis, it can reduce the frequency and severity of bipolar mood episodes and sometimes prevent them entirely. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you and your doctor will work together to find the right drug or combination of drugs for your needs. Because everyone responds to medication differently, you may have to try several different medications before you find one that relieves your symptoms.

Check in frequently with your doctor. It’s important to have regular blood tests to make sure that your medication levels are in the therapeutic range. Getting the dose right is a delicate balancing act. Close monitoring by your doctor will help keep you safe and symptom-free.

Continue taking your medication, even if your mood is stable. Do not stop taking your medication as soon as you start to feel better. Most people need to take medication long-term in order to avoid relapse.

Do not expect medication to fix all your problems. Bipolar disorder medication can help reduce the symptoms of mania and depression, but in order to feel your best, it is important to lead a lifestyle that supports wellness. This includes surrounding yourself with supportive people, getting therapy, and getting plenty of rest.

Be extremely cautious with antidepressants. Research shows that antidepressants are not particularly effective in the treatment of bipolar depression. Furthermore, they can trigger mania or cause rapid cycling between depression and mania in people with bipolar disorder.

Therapy for bipolar disorder: An Important Part of Treatment

Research indicates that people who take medications for bipolar disorder are more likely to get better faster and stay well if they also receive therapy. Therapy can teach you how to deal with problems your symptoms are causing, including relationships, work and self-esteem issues. Therapy will also address any other problems you may be struggling with, such as substance abuse or anxiety.

Three types of therapy are especially helpful in the treatment of bipolar disorder:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Family-Focused Therapy
  • Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you examine how your thoughts affect your emotions. You also learn how to change negative thinking patterns and behaviors into more positive ways of responding. For bipolar disorder, the focus is on managing symptoms, avoiding triggers for relapse, and problem-solving.

Family-Focused Therapy
Living with a person who has bipolar disorder can be difficult, causing strain in family and marital relationships. Family-focused therapy addresses these issues and works to restore a healthy and supportive home environment. Educating family members about the disease and how to cope with its symptoms is a major component of treatment. Working through problems in the home and improving communication is also a focus of treatment.

Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy is a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment that was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, it has been found especially effective for those with suicidal and other multiply occurring severely dysfunctional behaviors. Research has shown it to be effective in reducing suicidal behavior, psychiatric hospitalization, treatment dropout, substance abuse, anger and interpersonal difficulties.

Source: Help Guide and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance