Please check out Suelain Moy’s excellent interview of Dr. Fink, “Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Q & A with Dr. Candida Fink, Part 2.” Dr. Fink’s answers cover medication, therapy, self-help, and the benefits of having a strong support network. After reading the interview, please return here and let us know what you think.
We just started a NAMI support group in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Since the town is small (population about 15,000), we decided to start with a combination group, consisting of both consumers (people who have a diagnosis) and family members. We hope eventually to get enough people involved to split into two groups — one exclusively for consumers and the other for family members and friends.
Having both perspectives in a single group has its advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I feel that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.
In Bipolar Disorder For Dummies and on this blog, we have recommended numerous lifestyle and environmental changes someone can take to feel better with bipolar disorder. Readers have contributed some of their own ideas and suggestions to keep the conversation going.
While nutritional changes, mindfulness, exercise, and other such interventions don’t treat bipolar disorder, these can be important tools for making you feel better overall. Sometimes, these interventions can even reduce symptoms; for example, mindfulness can be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety, while exercise can boost moods.
We thought it might be interesting and fun to try something together. Making lifestyle and environmental changes is hard, so it’s usually best to make small, manageable changes – something you can do and succeed at, so you gain a sense of mastery and the encouragement to try more new things.
Last week, I attended a NAMI problem-solving workshop for people who have family members with serious mental illness, including bipolar disorder. The tone of the workshop was fairly low. Many attendees were feeling the strain of dealing with some very difficult situations.
Near the end of the workshop, the leader went around the room and asked each person what they were going to do for themselves – to take a time out and recharge their batteries. Fortunately, my family has been on a fairly even keel for several months, so I didn’t have much to say, but I think this is a good question both for those with bipolar and their loved ones:
What are you going to do for yourself? Be selfish. Think of something you really want to do that you think will help get your mind off whatever you’re currently dealing with and help recharge your batteries.
Please share. Your idea might just help someone else.
On Tuesday, Dr. Fink will be posting a Bipolar Challenge… two small changes – one lifestyle/nutritional and one having to do with activity level – to make for one week.
Photo by goXunuReviews, available under a Creative Commons license.
Whenever I attend a mental health support group meeting, I’m reminded of how important it is to talk about what we’re dealing with. I’m also reminded of how difficult the subject of mental illness can be to discuss in our usual social circles, sometimes even with close friends and family members. Stigma-induced fear and shame often silence us, causing us to suffer needlessly in isolation. In a support group, you can open up, release some of that emotional pressure, and lighten your load.
Perhaps more importantly, support groups enable you to tap the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of others to solve problems and avoid common pitfalls. Outsiders can offer a different perspective. They’re less emotionally involved and can think more clearly and objectively about a situation than those who are entangled in the chaos. They may even have had the same or a similar problem and can offer just the solution you need.
By Shamash Alidina, author of Mindfulness For Dummies
Mindfulness is a meditation therapy that uses self-control techniques to overcome negative thoughts and emotions and achieve a calmer, more focused state of mind – a moment-to-moment awareness with qualities of kindness, curiosity, and acceptance.
Mindfulness was originally an ancient eastern approach to wellbeing that has been found, through recent psychological research, to be a powerful way of managing a range of mental health conditions.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s not only a technique you practice now or then, but a way of living your whole life, moment by moment. People who practice mindfulness regularly find they are more focused, calm, and better able to cope with the challenges of life.
In mindfulness, you learn to see thoughts as just thoughts rather than as facts or situations you must react to. Thoughts commonly come and go in the mind, and if you treat all thoughts as true and assign them all the same level of importance, you’re more prone to feel down in the midst of negative or self-judgmental thoughts and highly elated in the midst of positive thoughts. This rollercoaster ride of emotions and energy often seems to trace the same path as bipolar disorder’s ups and downs.
If brain chemistry can affect thoughts and behaviors, can thoughts and behaviors affect brain chemistry and perhaps even rewire the brain?
An accumulating body of evidence supports the notion that non-medical interventions – especially mindfulness – can create changes in the body and brain that help reduce distress and improve brain function in a variety of ways.
MindfulnessA mental state of heightened awareness, free of distraction, and more conducive to deliberate thought and action.
I recently attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group meeting that’s run as a problem-solving workshop. All attendees are sworn to confidentiality, so I won’t go into details, but as one of the attendees described her situation, I felt overwhelmed by what she perceived to be the problem. It was total chaos. What she described as one problem was actually a problem pileup – numerous problems all jammed together.
Problem pileups are common in bipolar disorder. Problems tend to come in waves making you feel confused and overwhelmed. When you’re in the midst of it, you may have trouble seeing what’s actually going on. As a first step, NAMI advises making a list.
This past weekend, I participated in NAMI’s Family-to-Family training program to become a facilitator (presenter) for the course. My goal is to work with others to start a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) affiliate and one or more mental health support groups in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and offer the Family-to-Family course to people in the area who have a loved one living with a “persistent and serious mental illness” – bipolar disorder (manic depression), schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, panic and other anxiety disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Family-to-Family is a unique 12-week course (2.5 hours per class), taught by people who have loved ones who are living with one of the serious mental illnesses mentioned previously. The course is designed to lead family members through the three stages of emotional responses:
Just read an article out of Glasgow, Scotland entitled “Laughter’s the Best Medicine,” about an interesting supplemental treatment for bipolar disorder and other illnesses – comedy courses.
According to the article, a Glasgow-based charity organization won a three-year £62,500 (approximately $100,000) grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to “provide free comedy courses aimed at improving confidence and self-esteem, as well as reducing the social isolation and depression, that ill health – mental and physical – can cause.”
I’m not sure how effective this would be in treating acute bipolar symptoms, but it certainly sounds like a great way recover from the fallout and remove a major stressor – the social isolation that often rides the tail of a major mood episode.
What I wonder is, would insurance cover this? Maybe I’ll call just to hear them laugh.
Photo by Cristiano Betta, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.