Author: Pilar Cárdenas-Gimber, LMFT
Whether you are choosing a new psychiatrist or have already chosen one, there are a multitude of factors that come into play and your psychiatrist will be vitally important in your successful treatment.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors trained to diagnose and treat psychiatric conditions, including bipolar disorder, and they are very experienced in making an accurate diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, and most often requires medication to stabilize your mood. Your psychiatrist will determine and prescribe medications to treat your bipolar disorder.
There are a multitude of important questions and considerations to keep in mind when choosing or working with your psychiatrist. The following are suggestions to consider.
Appointments and availability
Will appointments be in-person, virtual or both?
Do you accept (my) insurance?
What is the cost for initial evaluation/assessment?
What is the cost per session?
Are there different session lengths, and if so what is the cost for each?
How often will I be seeing you? Initially, sessions with your psychiatrist may be more frequent.
Where are you located? (distance from your home can be a factor, especially when you are seeing your doctor frequently).
How booked is your schedule? You will occasionally need to be seen between appointments if symptoms worsen, or during changes in medications, etc. It will be helpful to know that your doctor is available for extra appointments.
How do I contact you during business hours?
Do you have an after-hours number?
How quickly do you typically return non-urgent calls?
Emergencies, Urgent Calls
How do I reach you in an emergency?
What is your after hours contact information and procedure?
Who will be covering for you when you are away, and what is their contact information?
The process of identifying the right medications and dosage, and in which combination takes time. Being patient with the process can be very difficult, but psychiatrists are very skilled at this methodical process. Asking for clarification and explanation can help you better understand where you are on your road to recovery.
How do you decide which medications to prescribe for me and how do they work?
What side effects are most common with the medicines I am taking, and how are the side effects managed if they occur?
How long will it take for the medication to start working?
How long will it take for me to start seeing positive effects/improvement?
What should I do if I forget to take my medication on schedule?
Will I need blood tests or other lab work to monitor my medicines, and if so, how often?
Monitoring Signs and Symptoms of Mania or Depression
What are the major warning signs that I could be developing mania or hypomania?
What are the warning signs and symptoms of a depressive episode?
Alcohol and Drugs
What are the risks of alcohol use, cannabis or other drugs?
Is there a safe or acceptable amount or use of alcohol or drugs?
What effects will alcohol or drugs have on my medicines?
What effect will alcohol and drugs have on my illness?
Psychotherapy, Alternative Medicine, Exercise and Diet
Do you recommend psychotherapy as an adjunct to your treatment? If so, can you offer a referral?
Do you recommend accupuncture, alternative medicine, or meditation etc?
Can exercise help reduce symptoms or affect mood? How much and what type of exercise is best?
Are there any foods I should eat or avoid?
Is caffeine okay, and if so in what amount?
What role does sleep play in mood stabilization and maintenance?
Should I maintain a sleep schedule?
Support Groups, Books, Articles
Can you recommend support groups and reading materials that can be helpful in understanding my bipolar disorder? IBPF is here for you, to support you alongside your professional medical treatment with education and resources. Go to ibpf.org to order our free book Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder, and to learn more.
Living with bipolar disorder can be complicated and challenging. A good working relationship with your psychiatrist, which includes understanding your bipolar disorder and being actively involved in your treatment plan, will significantly help you in your recovery. Taking advantage of all resources, including personal relationships that are informed by you to assist when needed will also help you on your wellness journey. You are not alone, stay connected to the IBPF community!