In the short term, depending on whether you are high or low and how severe it is, you may need different treatments.
When you have severe symptoms, you may need medications and also sometimes admission to hospital to help your symptoms and also keep you safe.
In the long term, the goal of treatment is to help you have a healthy, balanced and productive life.
This would include understanding the condition, controlling the symptoms and preventing the illness from coming back. Below we briefly describe each aspect of the treatment:
Help with understanding yourself and the illness (psychoeducation)
It is very important that you and your family are helped to understand bipolar disorder, how best to cope and what to do to reduce the chances of it coming back.
You and your family may notice ‘triggers’ to your episodes and/or early warning signs that an episode is starting.
Being aware of these can help reduce the chance of episodes occurring and getting help in the earliest stages of an episode can stop it from getting worse.
Talking treatments (also known as ‘psychological therapies’)
These may include different types of therapies like:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
The young person, sometimes with their family, learns to understand the links between their feelings and thoughts and how this affects their behaviour (see our factsheet on CBT).
- Family-focused treatment (family therapy) - The whole family can be helped to reduce stress, solve problems and communicate better.
Medication plays an important role in the treatment of bipolar disorder, especially if episodes are severe.
The choice of medication can depend upon the type of episode (manic or depressed). Everyone is different, and so the type of medication that is recommended will also be different.
Medications can have mild or even severe side-effects. Your psychiatrist will be able to advise about what they are and about what can be done to help.
The risk of side-effects needs to be balanced against the risk of the damaging effects of the illness on a person's life.
Antipsychotic medications are usually used for high/manic episodes, while antidepressant medications are used for the low/depressive episodes.
You may also need medications called mood stabilizers (e.g. lithium) which help to keep your mood stable both during and between episodes.
It is important that medications are not taken only when the problems are serious. If you have had more than one severe episode of illness, staying on medication is important to reduce the risk of further episodes.
Medication may be needed for months or even years. Some people may, under medical supervision, be able to stop their medication when they have recovered and have felt well for a while.
You may need physical examination and tests (like blood test) before starting or while you are on medication. It is important that if you are prescribed medication, you are regularly seen by your doctor or psychiatrist.