Some 5.5 million adults in the U.S. live with the often debilitating mood swings of bipolar disorder, the neurological mood disorder sometimes referred to as manic depression. It strikes men and women equally (although there is a diagnosis bias when misdiagnosed, wherein women are thought to be depressed and men are thought to be schizophrenic), and although the average age of onset is 25, it can actually develop at almost any age.
If you or one of your family members has bipolar disorder, no one needs to explain what a struggle it can be just to live a normal life. Maintaining job performance, much less keeping a job, maintaining personal bonds with friends and family, staying healthy, and even maintaining a will to live (1 in 5 patients will commit suicide) become serious challenges.
So what's a person afflicted by bipolar disorder to do?
Treating bipolar disorder is complicated and nuanced, and no single combination of bipolar treatments including: therapies, lifestyle adjustments, or medications will work for everyone. However, there are a few things, conceptually, that are always true:
Be involved in your own therapy. The only person who can make your therapy effective is you. You need to keep in touch with your doctor about your moods and side effects of medication; you need to keep your appointments with your psychotherapist; you need to seek support groups and programs. When you are involved, you can bring together all the factors of successfully coping with your disorder and to create a positive outlook on life.
Always take your currently prescribed medication, and take it consistently and on time. Bipolar medication can be a very important part of managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but medication cannot cure it. Even if you feel well, or feel stable, discontinuing your medication will allow your symptoms to return or possibly get worse. If you don't feel your medication is effective, you need to talk to your doctor. Unfortunately, effective bipolar medications also have side effects.
Ensure you always have someone you can talk to when things get difficult, especially a psychotherapist and a support group. Hard times can be difficult enough to go through alone when you don't have a mood disorder; having one not only makes hard times harder, but it can put your life, health, and living at risk. Having support will always increase the positivity of your treatment as well as maintaining a perspective on reality when at the extremes of a mood swing.
Recovery and success are always possible -- it's a matter of finding the right combination of factors that will work for you.
Perhaps the most common bipolar medication, alternately considered the most effective and slightly above average effectiveness, is lithium. Used to treat acute manic episodes as well as used as a maintenance medication, it does much to reduce the risk of suicidal ideations and attempts. It works by reducing the speed at which sodium distributes throughout the body.
Two other types of medications used to treat bipolar are antipsychotics and anticonvulsants. These are used alone or in combination with each other or with lithium to act as mood stabilizers. Antipsychotics are applied as a sort of sedative against mania, agitation and anxiety. It's not entirely clear how anticonvulsants work on the brain, except that each works differently and are prescribed to treat different types of bipolar disorder, often calming the hyperactivity associated to mania. Antipsychotics tend to be used for short term treatment, while anticonvulsants may be used for long term, especially if the disorder is rapid cycling.
Antidepressants are rarely used, and then only at the doctor's discretion. SNRI class antidepressants are discouraged. This is due to the fact that it is believed they may trigger rapid cycling, hypomania, mania, or mixed states, all of which complicate the disorder further. Antidepressants are generally utilized during acute stages of depression, but may also be used if discontinuing one leads to a depressive relapse.
Some common medications for bipolar disorder are: Abilify, Depakene, Depakote, Klonopin, Lamictal, Lithium, Risperdal, Seroquel, Topiramate, Topamax, and Zyprexa.
For more information about these drugs and to get a free coupon for your bipolar medication visit our Bipolar Disorder Conditions Page. Remember it may take a lot of trial and error to find the medications that work best for you. Don't be discouraged, and if you are, be sure to talk to your doctor and therapist about it.
How you live and what you put into your body is just as important as taking the right medication and taking it on time. While there's no controlling the way your bipolar disorder will cycle from mania to normal to depression, you can ensure that you're living in a way that is optimal for your bipolar medication and therapy to succeed. This is more than just getting help for or avoiding substance abuse.
Attending support groups will help you keep perspective on reality and hope, but participating in fun activities will help maintain wellness as well as offer goals to focus on. Starting a daily calendar or mood tracking journal will help you develop a regular schedule that will allow you to be consistent with your medication as well as help you recognize trigger signs for manic or depressive episodes. Developing problem solving strategies and a support system will help you limit undue or excess stress that may trigger a new episode.
You will also need regular sleep, a healthy diet, and to avoid certain foods. Follow your doctor or therapist's instructions for this - you may need to avoid caffeine and excess sugar or salt. Daily walks are also recommended, as is exposing yourself to sunlight. (Note: some medications may make you more sensitive to sunlight. Always talk to your doctor about how to participate in healthy activities while reducing the risk of side effects.) Regular exercise will help you focus and relax.
With the right daily and weekly structures in place, you will have the tools you need to focus on staying well, stay positive about staying well, spot early warning signs as well as trouble signs, and ultimately not only cope with bipolar disorder, but actively work to stabilize yourself and live a satisfying life.