Since bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed, you can go into your appointment with confidence after having done your research and tracked your symptoms. It’s helpful to you and your doctor. Mental illness is incredibly subjective, since we don’t actually know a lot about it. Communication is the biggest part of obtaining the correct diagnosis and figuring out the best way for you to handle it. Basically, if you can give your doctor more insight into what you’re experiencing, you can get more personalized treatment. (Don’t be a smarty-pants though. Remember, it’s a team effort.) With that, here are some terms you should be familiar with regarding said treatment.
Antidepressants/SSRI: A disturbing amount of people take antidepressants, most of which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). The way these drugs work, it’s thought, is that there is a chemical imbalance in the brain of those with depression. SSRI’s work to return the balance by affecting how much serotonin is available in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center. About 13% of the population takes antidepressants, though possibly more two-thirds of those people do not qualify for a diagnosis of depression. All of this is taking place when there is little to no evidence that serotonin is actually the problem or the solution.
If you have bipolar disorder, antidepressants will very likely worsen symptoms. They’re usually prescribed for breakthrough anxiety or depression, but can actually cause manic symptoms.
Mood stabilizers: This class of medications is pretty much the go-to for bipolar disorder. It’s thought to do exactly what it sounds like- stabilize your moods as opposed to the swinging effects of untreated bipolar disorder. Again, we don’t really know how they work. The observed effects are that they lower the likelihood of a manic episode while also acting as an antidepressant. Lithium has been the most widely used mood stabilizer, though anticonvulsants are working their way up. As the name implies, anticonvulsants are traditionally used to treat epilepsy, but also work as mood-stabilizing medication for bipolar disorder. How convenient! Examples of these are Depakote and Lamictal.
Like any medication, mood stabilizers come with side-effects. These can range from weight gain, memory and concentration problems to tremors.
Atypical Antipsychotics: Since manic episodes can come with psychosis, antipsychotics can be used to lessen the blow. They don’t cure psychosis, but they help. Antipsychotics are more often used for schizophrenia. For bipolar disorder, atypical antipsychotics are usually prescribed. They don’t work in quite the same way, but are effective at treating acute manic episodes. They are typically part of a combination of medications for treating bipolar disorder. Examples of these are Abilify, Zyprexa and Seroquel.
Side-effects are similar to mood stabilizers, but can be more severe.
Efficacy: When you want to know how well a treatment is working, you look at its efficacy. How effective is it overall? How effective is it compared to other drugs? The key factor for efficacy is that there can be a trend. For example, if one class of medication tends to be the most effective for the most people. However, the most important part of a treatment’s efficacy is how well it works for the patient. Just because one medication is said to work better overall does not mean it will work better for you. You and your doctor will figure out the best treatment based on its efficacy for you.
Maintenance: This may be the most important term you need to remember. Maintenance is your treatment routine. It’s what keeps you as stable as possible. Bipolar disorder is a wild ride and difficult to control at the best of times. It is vital that you and your doctors/therapists come up with a custom plan for what works best for you. This usually includes continued use of medication, frequently a combination of medications. Let me repeat that- continued use of medication. If you’re even thinking about stopping your medication, you need to talk to your doctor. Just remember, if you feel better, the meds are doing their job.
Bipolar disorder is recurrent by nature. The more you stick to a routine- any routine, not just medication- the easier it is to keep this awful disorder under control.
I hope this series has helped you out and given you information you can use from here on out in your treatment. It may also help friends and loved ones understand how complicated all of this can be. We’ve only just begun to peek down the rabbit hole.
You can find me on Twitter @LaRaeRLaBouff