A combination of pharmaceutical medication and psychotherapy is often recommended to treat bipolar disorder. However, there are many medications and therapeutic modalities people use to cope with symptoms like hypomania, mania, and depression. Those living with this condition may want to know which treatment works best. Although the answer can be personal, a combination of medication, therapy, and support from friends and family may be the most common approach.
Is Bipolar Disorder Curable?
Bipolar disorder is not curable, but it may be treatable and can respond well to treatment. A condition being "incurable" means no treatment option will undoubtedly and entirely eradicate the disorder and its symptoms. However, some people with this condition manage their symptoms and live healthily.
Bipolar disorder is not an indication of how successful one might be. For example, several famous people with bipolar disorder have had significant success. Proper treatment can help you manage your symptoms to the point where you experience them less often. Knowing which treatment works best for you can be a matter of trial and error.
Treating Bipolar Disorder With Medications
Prescription medications are often the recommended treatment for bipolar disorder. Medications can help individuals manage mania and depression. In some cases, they may eradicate manic episodes or cause them to be less severe. Consult a medical doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication.
Mood stabilizers stabilize a person's mood so that it is less susceptible to the changes sparked by mania or depression.
One of the first mood stabilizer medications to be used successfully for bipolar disorder was lithium carbonate. In one review of the scientific literature on lithium, researchers found that lithium effectively prevented mania relapses in bipolar I disorder. However, it may also support depression. Lithium is used less often in modern psychology than in previous decades due to its side effects.
In recent decades, doctors have turned to other pharmaceutical drugs for mood stabilization. Newer medications were designed as anticonvulsant medications for people with epilepsy and other seizure disorders but are often effective in treating bipolar disorder, as well.
Antidepressants may be used to treat the depressive episodes of bipolar II disorder. They may sometimes be used to treat bipolar I disorder. However, some antidepressants may worsen mania, which can be dangerous. For those who struggle more with depression than hypomania or mania, these medications might be used if other options aren't effective.
Antipsychotics may treat the delusions and hallucinations that can happen during a manic episode. When depression or mania don't go away with other medications, adding an atypical antipsychotic medication may offer relief. In addition, these antipsychotic medications can be added to an antidepressant as an antimanic agent to prevent mania.
Treating Bipolar Disorder With Psychotherapy
Many modalities of psychotherapy have been used for bipolar treatment. There are over 400 therapeutic modalities available for therapists to practice, so what works for you may not be what works for someone else. For those who don't like traditional talk therapy modalities, expressive treatments like music therapy or art therapy may be beneficial. Below are a few options for people living with this condition.
Psychoeducation involves learning about the symptoms and diagnostic criteria of bipolar disorder and how you might be affected. After an initial diagnosis, your therapist may offer psychoeducation to help you learn what to expect and why following a treatment plan can be essential.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the "gold standard" of psychotherapy for many mental illnesses. It helps clients explore the negative or unrealistic thoughts and beliefs behind unwanted behaviors. Once the root of these behaviors or attitudes is located, you can work to overwrite them with healthier ones.
This technique can help you improve your behavior and mood. If you have bipolar disorder, CBT may help you identify inciting events that tend to bring on a bipolar episode for you. You can also use CBT to manage stress and cope with situations exacerbating your bipolar disorder symptoms.
Family-focused therapy is a type of intervention that can prevent relapses in bipolar disorder. This type of therapy builds support and improves communication within a family unit. During sessions, the family learns more about bipolar disorder and how to help the person diagnosed by recognizing warning signs.
Interpersonal And Social Rhythm Therapy
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is a therapy proven successful in helping people with bipolar disorder prevent relapses. IPSRT may enable you to stabilize daily rhythms, like sleeping, waking, exercising, and mealtimes. Because these rhythms can be erratic during an episode, some people with bipolar disorder abandon their regular schedules out of fear of losing consistency again. Getting back on track with these daily habits can improve mood and potentially prevent mood swings.
Alternative Therapy Options
Regardless of what type of therapy you pursue, there are several ways to receive treatment. Some people experience barriers to in-person therapy, such as financial insecurity or inaccessibility. In these cases, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial.
Online therapy can help save you time and money by allowing you to avoid commuting, gas costs, and parking costs. In addition, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions depending on your treatment goals.
In some cases, online therapy options may be a more approachable way to receive professional support. One recent review of over a dozen studies on online cognitive-behavioral therapy found it to be a more cost-effective option for clients than in-person therapy, all while successfully treating mental health symptoms related to depression. Another study found that 95% of people with bipolar disorder achieved an improved quality of life after partaking in online therapy.
Is bipolar depression a lifelong condition?
Yes, bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. However, there are effective treatments available, like psychotherapy and medications.
Which medications are there for bipolar disorder?
There are several prescription drugs—both FDA-approved and off-label—that a mental health professional might recommend to manage bipolar disorder:
- Mood-stabilizers: Mood-stabilizing medications like lithium and sodium valproate are used to manage and prevent both manic or hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes.
- Antipsychotics: A psychiatrist may prescribe an antipsychotic for your bipolar disorder, aiming to address mood swings and physical symptoms.
- Antidepressants: While opinions on the use of antidepressants is mixed because of the risk of mania and rapid cycling, there is a chance that it may help manage major depressive episodes.
Often, someone will take a combination of medications to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and it may take some trial and error to find the best ones.
Are there other treatments for bipolar disorder?
Nonmedication treatment options for managing bipolar disorder include:
- Electroconvulsive therapy: In this procedure, doctors sedate the patient and send electrical signals through the brain to facilitate positive changes in brain structure and function. ECT has shown a lot of promise for bipolar disorder, especially in cases where someone’s symptoms haven’t responded to medication and therapy.
- Psychotherapy: Regular therapy sessions can support your mental well-being through the ups and downs of both bipolar disorder and general life.
- Lifestyle changes: Maintaining steady, healthy nutrition, exercise, and sleep habits can reduce the risk of having a mood episode or developing comorbid mental disorders.
Can I live a normal life with bipolar disorder?
Yes! While bipolar disorder may require lifelong management with medications and other options, plenty of people with the condition are able to live rich lives and successfully manage work, school, family, relationships, and other obligations.
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