Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. When a person becomes depressed, he or she might feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When the mood shifts in the other direction, a person feels euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts might occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day. In some cases, bipolar disorder causes symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. Although bipolar disorder is a disruptive, long-term condition, moods can be kept in check by following a treatment plan, appropriate medication and psychotherapy.
Although no cure for bipolar disorder currently exists, there are ways to manage the disease and minimize symptoms:
Take medication exactly as prescribed by the doctor. There might be a trial-and-error period during which various medications are tried until the most effective one is found. There also might be more than one medication prescribed. Pay attention to the directions to see if the medication should be taken with or without food, and take it at the same time each day.
As with the medication, a regular routine is best. Make sure to get enough sleep: Seven to eight hours is usually recommended. During a manic period, patients usually average about four hours, because it is difficult for them to sleep that long. Always check with a doctor before taking any medication to induce sleep.
Exercise relieves stress and improves circulation. Everyone feels better following exercise, although sometimes it’s hard to get started, so choose an enjoyable form of exercise . It might be sessions in a gym, bicycling, hiking or walking. If the exercise routine is outdoors and the winters are cold, switch to the gym. Three to five times a week is usually the recommendation for exercise.
People suffering from bipolar disorder often neglect to eat, particularly during the manic phase. To prevent weight loss, remember to eat frequent snacks if an entire meal seems unappealing. Try to choose healthy snacks such as yogurt, fruit, nuts etc. Medication on an empty stomach is not a good idea, so remember to eat something.
If a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is reluctant to be treated, it is a difficult situation. It’s impossible to force someone into treatment. Most rehabilitation centers require that patients enter of their own volition. Caregivers to a person with bipolar disorder already know well that the patient needs professional help. Sometimes it helps to gather family members in one setting with the patient, and gently tell the person what the family concerns are and why everyone wants to see him or her get better. The reaction might even be explosive but at least the seed that might lead to treatment can be planted.
While a loved one is thinking about possible treatment, research treatment centers to determine which might be best. Since many bipolar disorder patients also have substance abuse problems, look for treatment centers which employ dual diagnosis: the detection of an underlying condition which accompanies the primary condition. For example, a patient suffers from bipolar disorder and is also addicted to prescription painkillers. If the bipolar disease is treated but not the addiction to painkillers, the patient continues to be addicted. All conditions must be treated concurrently to achieve optimum recovery. Call various facilities and ask questions; they should be happy to provide information.
Caregivers for bipolar disorder patients need frequent breaks, so put together a support team. Recruit friends and family members who are willing to volunteer to help. They can perhaps grocery shop or take over while the primary caregiver gets a few well-deserved hours off. During occasions when the police have been called to intervene, they can be enlisted to help in the future. Inform law enforcement of the situation so that, if the bipolar patient becomes involved with the law, the police will know the address and can bring the person home.
Sovereign Health Group is a residential treatment program for substance and mental health disorders, with facilities across the nation. For more information about bipolar disorder, please call (866) 524-5504.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer