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What should I include in my bipolar disorder treatment plan?

Just as a map guides lost travelers to geographic landmarks, a good bipolar disorder treatment plan, including both medication and therapy, can help to stabilize moods and help prevent episodes. A key component to staying well is the development of a good treatment plan which outlines needed medications and therapy, and importantly, a plan for insuring continued mental health care during times of crisis.
  • Medication: Medication is essential to making you feel better. Because of the disorder's shifting moods, more than one medication is needed to help you stay well. And, as time passes, these medications may need to be adjusted, and some may need to be changed due to side effects. But do not stop taking medication without first talking to your doctor. Remember that every person responds differently to medications, and what works for others may not work for you. Track the medications you are taking in a diary, which will help determine if the medications are working for you.
  • Therapy: Several types of therapy, also called psychotherapy, are used to help provide the needed skills for managing the disorder and daily life. Therapy can also teach you the "triggers" for moods, what someone says or does, or thoughts that triggered a "black" or low mood. Because the disorder also affects the entire family, marriage and family therapy can also help to improve the relationships with those close to you. Attend all of your therapy appointments; results are not instant, but can be long lasting. Research has shown that medications plus psychotherapy produce better outcomes for people with the disorder.
  • Planning for Times of Crisis: One important component to managing the disorder is establishing a plan for when you yourself are unable to direct your own care (e.g. during times of severe mania or depression). Establish a Psychiatric Advance Directive (PAD) for times when you cannot manage a relapse to insure that your care will continue as you wish.
Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

When first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it's important for you to learn as much as you can about the illness, the symptoms you experience in manic/hypomanic and depressive states, and what your triggers are. It can be really helpful to discuss these things with your family members, or other people who are important in your life, as well as to have a conversation with these people about how they can help you with your illness.

It's important to remember that medication is the cornerstone of treatment for bipolar disorder, and that nonadherence to a medication treatment plan will likely result in a bipolar episode. But there are also many other lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the likelihood of future episodes: stop using drugs and really limit (or stop altogether if possible) your alcohol intake; make sure you get enough sleep and exercise; eat healthy; and make sure you maintain a balance in your life of work and enjoyable activities.

For some people, psychotherapy is very helpful, and you can learn skills that might reduce your likelihood of future episodes as well. If you're hesitant to explore this option, check out some self-help books such as my book, "The DBT Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder".

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.