Psych Doc: How to live and how to help someone with bipolar disorder

What does bipolar mean and how can I help my husband deal with it?

In bipolar disorder (or manic-depressive disorder) as in major depressive disorder, there is a basic disturbance in the background emotional tone we call mood. Whereas people with major depression (“unipolar disorder”) have depressed episodes, people with bipolar disorder have a variable pattern of depressed and manic episodes. Mania is the opposite of depression. It is characterized by exuberance, exalted mood, rapidity of speech, flight of ideas, expansiveness, grandiosity, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and poor judgment. Delusions and hallucinations can occur. Untreated mania can wreak havoc on a person’s life because of the great energy devoted to creating all sorts of complications. Bipolar disorder runs in families and can begin anywhere from childhood (which is rare) to age 50, with an average onset around age 30.

Psych Doc: How to live and how to help someone with bipolar disorder

In 1949, Dr. John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, found lithium to be an effective treatment for mania. Since then, lithium has become the mainstay of treatment for bipolar disorder. To prevent manic and depressed episodes, doctors prescribe a steady regimen of lithium. Blood levels need to be checked periodically to avoid toxic levels. Sometimes doctors use other drugs, such as the anti-seizure drugs valproic acid and carbamazapine. With modern pharmacologic treatment, many people with bipolar disorder can live normal and productive lives, completely or relatively free of disruptive mood swings.

The entire family will have to live with this illness for a long time, with its chronic maintenance medications and threats of acute episodes. It’s important to get involved in some way. You should familiarize yourself with the nature of the disorder and early warning signs of instability.

It’s also important to develop a consistent relationship with a treating doctor. Sometimes the input of the spouse is vital, especially when the patient’s judgment and self-reporting may be defective and early intervention is necessary.

Support and advocacy groups are available to both patients and families. These groups provide educational materials, referrals, and other information.

The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

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