Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder, and each person’s experience with it is unique. For this reason, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Each individual needs a personalized treatment plan that specifically addresses the subtype of the disorder that they’re living with and what symptoms affect them most significantly.
While exact treatment plans vary from one person to the next, most plans include a mix of counseling and medication. In some cases, lifestyle changes or self-management strategies can be used effectively alongside more traditional treatment methods to manage and relieve symptoms.
Counseling is a key component in treating mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder.
Everyone experiences ups and downs throughout their lives, and unfortunately, these kinds of circumstances are often unavoidable. While external stressors and life events such as workplace stress or moving to a new city are not the root cause of manic and depressive episodes, they can trigger them.
Because stress often can’t be avoided, it’s important that those with mental health conditions like bipolar disorder learn to overcome obstacles and process their emotions in healthy, constructive ways. By learning coping mechanisms and understanding the nature of bipolar disorder, those who live with this condition may be able to avoid unnecessary episodes of mania and depression. Counseling is an essential tool for those learning to navigate this condition.
Regular counseling sessions give individuals the opportunity to proactively confront triggers as they arise. During these sessions, the individual can talk through concerns and coping strategies that they’ve developed to handle stress, share progress and track how lifestyle changes may be affecting the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
There are several types of counseling for bipolar disorder. Some counselors may favor one method for treating a client living with this disorder while other counselors may employ multiple approaches for a more holistic approach. The most common forms of counseling include:
- Family-Focused Therapy: Bipolar disorder can have a profound impact on the individual’s relationships, particularly their relationships with family members. FFT is a therapeutic technique that involves family members like parents, spouses and children in counseling sessions to help them understand the condition and help the individual and their family members learn to effectively communicate and manage symptoms.
- Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy: This form of therapy is designed to help people avoid episodes of mania and depression by identifying how biological and social factors affect their moods. As part of this therapy, clients may document their social routines, sleeping habits, and interpersonal triggers to help them recognize the events that may trigger an episode.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT has demonstrated effectiveness for a wide range of mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. It’s based on the philosophy that psychological problems are largely due to a combination of unhelpful ways of thinking and unhelpful patterns of behavior and that by changing these thinking and behavior patterns, clients can improve their functioning and quality of life.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of cognitive-behavioral treatment that teaches therapeutic skills in four key areas, including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Through this type of therapy, which teaches people how to accept challenges and change thinking patterns and behavior, individuals with bipolar disorder can learn coping strategies for stress and intense emotions and improve their interpersonal interactions.
Counseling may be provided in a one-on-one or group setting, either in an office or as part of an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
In some cases, in order to effectively address episodes of mania and depression, treating the body is equally important as treating the mind. Doctors and therapists often integrate physical evaluations with psychiatric care to better understand the root cause of symptoms and determine the best approach to care.
There’s no denying the very real presence of mental health disorders. However, it’s important to note that sometimes, symptoms that appear to be entirely mental may actually be caused by biological conditions. For example, about 30 percent of people with untreated syphilis develop neurosyphilis—a condition that closely mimics the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Before moving forward with therapy and medication, a full medical exam is a necessary step to rule out other possible explanations.
For most people, an effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder includes both counseling and medication therapy.
Bipolar disorder can be a challenge to treat because its two defining characteristics—mania and depression—have virtually no overlap. Even so, there are some medications that can be effective for managing symptoms. These include:
- Mood stabilizers to address manic and hypomanic episodes, like lithium, valproic acid and lamotrigine
- Antipsychotics, like olanzapine, risperidone and lurasidone, should mania still persist despite the use of mood stabilizers
- Antidepressants, which are most commonly prescribed in conjunction with mood stabilizers
- Antidepressant-antipsychotic medications like Symbyax, which combines the antidepressant fluoxetine with the antipsychotic olanzapine
- Anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines
What works for one person may not work for another, so individuals may need to try out different medications to find one that treats their symptoms. In many cases of bipolar disorder, individuals may have to take several medications.
Lifestyle habits can have a significant impact on mental health. While a poor diet and lack of exercise don’t cause conditions like bipolar disorder, these lifestyle factors can often cause symptoms to worsen. Many doctors and mental healthcare professionals recommend changes in lifestyle habits as a natural way to address mental illness. Complementary health approaches like aerobic exercise, meditation, and maintaining a balanced, nutrient-dense diet can’t replace treatment, but they can support it and optimize its effectiveness.
Can Bipolar Disorder Be Cured?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. Unlike physical illnesses like sinus infections or strep throat, mental illnesses typically can’t be cured with treatment; they can only be managed. In most cases, managing the symptoms and triggers or bipolar disorder is a lifelong process for those with this condition.
There’s no cure for bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope. With the right balance of counseling, medication therapy, and lifestyle changes, those living with bipolar disorder can lead normal, productive lives with minimal symptoms.
Living with Bipolar Disorder
Receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can feel life-changing, but it doesn’t have to be. Millions of Americans live with mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and are able to enjoy rich, healthy, and fulfilling lives. These tips can help manage symptoms, reduce the severity of episodes, and encourage a sustainable lifestyle:
- Stay informed. Monitoring moods and symptoms, evaluating triggers, and assessing one’s mental state regularly can provide a better understanding of what to expect and how to self-regulate.
- Stick to routines. Go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every morning, and set times for things like work, socializing, and exercise. This self-discipline around a routine can help regulate mood and avoid the likelihood of surprises.
- Create a support system. Living with any illness, whether physical or mental, often requires a strong support system. Individuals who partner with friends and family who can help them find strength or openly communicate about what they’re experiencing are more likely to see success.
- Be patient. Treating any mental illness takes time and patience to find the right approach to therapy and medication.
If you or someone you love is living with bipolar disorder, help is available. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more.