Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a life-long illness affecting the chemistry of the brain. In classic cases, it causes severe mood swings from manic episodes of extreme highs to depressive episodes of debilitating lows, with relatively normal periods in-between. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 2 million people age 18 and older have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for bipolar disorder at this time. But as with any chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease or epilepsy, proper treatment, management and understanding of the illness is crucial. Most people with bipolar disorder can lead full, productive and satisfying lives by taking crucial steps to control and manage their illness.
Some key steps to consider if you or a loved one have bipolar disorder include:
1. Find a mental health professional you trust. A person diagnosed with bipolar disorder needs to establish a relationship with a trusted mental health professional where an open and honest exchange can take place.
2. Take medication as prescribed. This is first and foremost the most important step in taking control of bipolar disorder. It is the one element that needs to be strictly adhered to. In order for medication to work effectively it must be taken consistently and for the long term. It may be tempting to stop taking medication as symptoms lessen and one starts feeling better. However, this could have devastating consequences.
3. Reduce Stress. Mental health professionals typically believe that increased stress can trigger an episode of manic depression. Finding time to relax, sharing extra responsibilities, or simply talking to someone during a stressful event may help to bring on an increased feeling of calmness.
4. Do not become isolated. Do not try to “handle” bipolar disorder alone. Seeking out the comfort and understanding of family and friends is central to a person’s treatment. It can be very helpful to join a bipolar disorder support group because the people there understand the feelings and difficulties of living with the illness. They can lend insight and encouragement to a person confronting a diagnosis.
5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is important to establish regular healthy routines such as exercising the same time everyday, going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep, because erratic sleep patterns can increase the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Do not use caffeine or recreational drugs.
6. Become an expert on bipolar disorder. Become involved in understanding the symptoms and treatment of bipolar disorder and the effects it can have on family and friends. Consult a qualified mental health professional with questions and concerns. Read books about the illness or listen to lectures by experts. Learn as much about bipolar disorder as possible because knowledge is a powerful tool in taking out the mystery of the illness.
7. Enhance life with enjoyable things. Make it a priority to engage in things that bring about feelings of joy, happiness, and accomplishment. Hobbies or activities that enhance a sense of peace or relaxation serve one well in dealing with the confusion of bipolar disorder.
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder does not have to mean the end of one’s world; rather it can be considered a new beginning. One that, at last, provides an explanation and ultimate relief from some of the unexplained and destructive behaviors a person might exhibit, freeing them to live rich and fulfilling lives.