Steps to Seeking Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Recognizing symptoms, choosing the right provider, and other strategies to help you take the next step in treatment.

A young woman with bipolar disorder speaks with a counselor. Treatment for bipolar disorder can involve several healthcare providers working as a team.

Updated on November 8, 2023

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by unusual and intense changes in mood. This includes episodes of mania and hypomania, depressive episodes, and episodes with mixed features (which include symptoms of both mania and depression).

Left untreated or undertreated, bipolar disorder can significantly impair a person’s ability to live a normal life. For people living with bipolar disorder and their loved ones, it’s important to recognize the need for treatment, and also the steps a person can take to seek treatment and manage the condition.

The strategies below can help you get started.

1. Recognize symptoms

Bipolar disorder can be a different experience for different people. This can sometimes make it a difficult condition to recognize. Even healthcare providers can find it challenging to distinguish bipolar disorder from other mental health conditions.

To better understand the symptoms you experience, keep a symptom journal. Use it to record moods, emotions, behaviors, energy levels, and anything you find challenging. This can provide useful information for your healthcare provider. It can also make it much easier to describe your symptoms to a healthcare provider during an appointment.

Once you begin treatment for bipolar disorder, a symptom journal can help you keep track of progress.

2. Work with the right providers

Treatment for bipolar disorder is often overseen by a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in treating mental health conditions. But in many cases, treatment involves several healthcare providers working as a team. People with bipolar disorder often work with psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and others. A primary care provider can also be a valuable member of a healthcare team.

In addition to working with providers who are qualified, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the different members of your healthcare team. Successful treatment for a mental health condition depends on your ability to speak openly and honestly about what you are experiencing. It also depends on your ability to trust your healthcare providers to guide you toward the right treatment decisions.

3. Learn about your diagnosis

Another reason why the right healthcare team is so important—they will be your best source of information about your diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder varies from person to person. There are several different subtypes, and the symptoms and pattern of episodes can vary between each. (There are also plenty of cases of bipolar disorder that do not fit neatly into a subtype).

Additionally, many people with bipolar disorder have other mental health conditions. Anxiety and substance use disorders are common examples. Any coexisting mental health condition must be considered during diagnosis and treatment.

4. Understand your treatment plan

A treatment plan typically includes a number of different elements, including medication, therapy, social support, lifestyle changes, and planning for emergencies.

  • Medications. Mood stabilizers, neuroleptics, and other types of medication can help prevent episodes. To get the most out of treatment, a person must take every dose of medication as directed. Be sure to discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare provider.
  • Psychotherapy. Approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), can help you learn how to manage your symptoms effectively. Therapy can help you better understand your condition, identify triggers, and develop coping strategies.
  • Social support. Social workers often play an important role in treatment, helping a person navigate the healthcare system, access resources, and communicate with their healthcare team. Consider participating in a support group where you can connect with other people who are living with bipolar disorder, who know what the experience is like.
  • Lifestyle changes. Consistent routines, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, a balanced diet, and reducing stress can help a person get the most from the other parts of their treatment plan and improve overall health.
  • Crisis plan. This plan should outline steps to take in case of severe episodes, such as episodes where a person is experiencing suicidal ideation or engaging in high-risk behaviors.

Because bipolar disorder is a different experience for each person, a treatment plan will be individualized to meet your needs. Finding the treatment plan that works for you can take time. Advocate for yourself, be open and honest with your healthcare team, and stick with treatment. Remember that treatment can help you stay healthy and enjoy a better quality of life.

Article sources open article sources

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Agnes Lubloy, Judit Lilla Kereszturi, et al. Exploring factors of diagnostic delay for patients with bipolar disorder: a population-based cohort study. BMC Psychiatry, 2020. Vol. 20, No. 75.
Ankit Jain and Paroma Mitra. Bipolar Disorder. StatPearls. February 20, 2023.
Monika Sohal, Pavneet Singh, et al. Efficacy of journaling in the management of mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Family Medicine and Community Health, 2022. Vol. 10, No. 1.
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