The biggest misconception about Bipolar is that there is nothing you can do about it.
So you think you have bipolar…...
A large part of dealing with bipolar affective disorder is about removing misconceptions, the biggest one being that there is nothing you can do. It’s an illness and there will be good days and bad days. However, there are things you can do to help yourself - starting with contacting a psychiatrist to confirm that bipolar disorder really is your problem.
The psychiatrist will take a detailed history of your symptoms and check that that they meet the criteria for BPAD. Other conditions can mimic the symptoms of BPAD and only an experienced psychiatrist will be able to identify other important diagnoses, including some physical health problems such as endocrine or neurological conditions which may require separate treatment themselves.
Then it’s about realising what it is within your capabilities to deal with it - and that is half the battle won. Don’t let any misconceptions about lifestyle, medicine or mental illness affect how you view your treatment and your disorder.
'In order to make the most informed choice it is always best to access the highest quality information that you can'
To have bipolar disorder can be a huge challenge - but it is better to know what the problem is than to not know - and to know how are you going to live with the challenges of those major mood swings and changing levels of energy.
Unfortunately, we can’t yet cure bipolar disorder, however, we really do know how to help you to manage it - and to do so very successfully. Accepting that you have the condition and that you will have to take responsibility for managing it for the rest of your life is hard - but it can be done. So here’s a checklist of things to bear in mind if you’re diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder.
Medication for bipolar
There is a very wide-range of different medicines available for the treatment of both depression and mania in bipolar. The choice of medicine is quite complex and will depend on which symptoms that you want to target first i.e. depression or mania. There are important differences in the side-effect profiles of the different medicines which you need to know about as well as the sorts of monitoring required which ranges from an annual general health check by your GP, to more frequent monitoring of blood levels and kidney function which is recommended for people taking lithium.
'Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to dealing with any mental illness but particularly with bipolar disorder, as many other factors can play an important role in remaining well'
In order to make sense of all of the choices, and to make the best decisions about what is likely to be best for you, it is vital to speak to a psychiatrist who has experience in the area.
Some people will manage the symptoms of BPAD without using medicines, or sometimes by only taking medicines occasionally when symptoms are really intolerable. In order to make the most informed choice it is always best to access the highest quality information that you can. An experienced psychiatrist will be able to assess your situation and give you the most up to date and reliable information based on evidence from clinical trials and guidelines.
Psychotherapy is almost as important
While medication is often helpful, it is also imperative not to overlook having specialist psychotherapy sessions. We recommend that you have both a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist in order to get the best of all forms of treatment. Talking therapies can be hugely helpful and should never be overlooked, but, just as some people with bipolar disorder make the mistake of rejecting or failing to keep to their medication, some start believing that the solution to their disorder has to do with the medication alone. The fact is that therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often works very well for those with bipolar, especially for the depressive symptoms.
Use your psychiatrist for medication, but have him or her recommend a psychotherapist to talk you through the mental processes and you will find that thinking clearly becomes a much less challenging task.
Check your lifestyle….
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to dealing with any mental illness but particularly with bipolar disorder, as many other factors can play an important role in remaining well. Sleep deprivation, excessive use of alcohol and drug abuse can all exacerbate bipolar disorder, sometimes making episodes more frequent and derailing treatment.
Everyone gets told to do it - and it seems very basic stuff - but eating healthily, getting a good night’s rest and staying away from alcohol and drugs really is one of the best ways of making your life easier to handle.
Make sure the support you’re getting is healthy
We all need to have a support network and they are a powerful force to rely on, a safety net in times of trouble and a safe port in a storm. However, through no fault of their own, family members and friends can sometimes inadvertently have a detrimental effect on us. It’s important that you remember the advice given to you by properly qualified health professionals. It may be that a friend tries to persuade you to drink to relax, or to stop taking your medication, or take part in behaviour that, if you think about it, might endanger your mental health. You must be able to say “no”. Should you feel like this becomes too much of an issue, you must try to remember that your psychiatrist and therapist really do have a lot of experience of managing bipolar - and your friends and family don’t. At the very least you should always consider consulting a medical professional before making any decisions about treatment. A support network is important and a great source of comfort, but it’s important not to mistake them for professional help.
You are not alone - but you are an individual
Remember, bipolar disorder varies from person to person and you need to find the treatment that is right for you. You can also meet with support groups, both online and in the real world. These can help give a certain perspective on your condition but the bottom line is that medication and psychotherapy are the foundations upon which you can build your own, personally stylised bipolar management regime.
Dr Andy Montgomery is an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist and a partner in Psychiatry-UK LLP - the only national CQC registered tele-psychiatry service in the United Kingdom. Connect with Dr Montgomery via LinkedIn. You can also follow Psychiatry-UK LLP on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms via their website