Bipolar disorder is an incredibly complicated and often debilitating illness. Everyone’s experience with bipolar disorder is unique. My symptoms probably don’t match yours exactly. Because of this, we may require different treatments, but the same drug and dose may also work for both of us. Other factors often come into play with bipolar disorder such as alcoholism, divorce or homelessness. These variations in symptoms and treatments require very diligent and personalized care. This means relying on more than just your primary care physician for treatment. There are various types of professionals equipped to handle the different facets of bipolar disorder, and these are the people that will make up your treatment team.
Your Primary Care Physician
Your PCP plays a very important part in your health care all around. They keep track of all of your health statistics from your blood pressure to your mental health. They are also most likely to be the first person you see for your symptoms and give you an initial diagnosis. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is often missed and misdiagnosed as anxiety or unipolar depression.
PCP’s should be aware of other symptoms that often occur with bipolar disorder such as irritability, memory and attention problems and also comorbid disorders like substance abuse and eating disorders. This can help to avoid misdiagnosis and ineffective or potentially exacerbating treatment.
You should always keep your PCP in the loop about the status of all of your treatments, but hopefully at the first signs of mental illness, your PCP will refer you to the next and most important member of your team.
The initial appointment with a psychiatrist (or Pdoc) is called the intake appointment. It can feel daunting and leave you exhausted and raw. It’s at this point where they will take all of the information from your PCP and collect more information from you. This will include extensively going through your family history, basic life story and symptom history.
You’ll also likely fill out surveys asking about various aspects of your life from your social group, drinking habits, coping mechanisms, etc. Bring along a list of your current medications with the names and dosage of each med.
Basically, they want an intimate picture of what it’s like to be you. It’s at this point you will get your more “official” diagnosis and initial treatment plan. For bipolar disorder, this will almost always include medication. The dosage will start off small and increase until the right dosage is found. These drugs are powerful and your body needs to get used to them slowly. A small dose is often enough to check for potential side-effects and drug allergies.
Your psychiatrist will schedule follow-up appointments at regular intervals. This will help them check on your overall status and see if your medication needs to be adjusted or if a new treatment plan is necessary. They may also recommend adding more people to your treatment team.
These are the core members of the team put in place to help you cope with bipolar disorder. In Part II we’ll take a look at the roles of more people who are there to offer support.
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