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I’m bipolar, what should I do?

If you suspect that you have a bipolar disorder or you have been diagnosed with one there are various things that you should and shouldn’t do to ensure effective treatment so that you can lead a fully-functional life.

A common finding with those who suffer from a bipolar disorder is substance abuse.

“People often turn to substances, including dagga and alcohol, in an attempt to make themselves feel better. But, the use of substances should be avoided,” said Dr Eddie Pak, a psychiatrist based at the Gauteng Department of Health’s Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital in Krugersdorp.

“Substances can trigger a vulnerability in some people, who could be genetically predisposed to a mood disorder. Substances also often make mood disorders worse. Alcohol, for instance, can cause depression,” he added. 

Mental health disorders often have a stigma attached to them. “People often don’t reach out for help because they are worried about what other people will think of them. This causes unnecessary suffering because bipolar is treatable and controllable and people should get the help that they need,” said Dr Pak.

Sometimes people who have felt well for a long time hope that the bipolar disorder has gone away and that they don’t need medicine anymore. Unfortunately, medications do not cure it. Stopping them can lead to a relapse. Always talk to your doctor before stopping any medication.

Help yourself

Dr Pak urges people suffering from bipolar to educate themselves and become an expert in their illness. You will have the disorder for the rest of your life so speak to your doctor or a therapist, read books and articles and learn everything that you can. 

“The more you know, the more control you have over your life,” says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

It’s very important to take your medication as prescribed and to let a new doctor know about your condition and the medications that you are taking.

According to the SADAG you can help reduce minor mood swings and stresses that sometimes lead to more sever episodes by maintaining a stable sleep pattern and regular pattern of activity; trying family therapy; joining a support group; and reducing work stress.

You can also develop a lifestyle that supports your wellness by using therapy and educational materials to improve your self-esteem and change negative thoughts into positive ones; enhancing your life with pets, music and activities that make you feel good; having a comfortable living space where you feel safe and happy; keeping your life calm and peaceful; taking good care of yourself; managing your time and energy well; spending time with affirming, fun people; doing exercises that help you relax, focus and reduce stress; recording your thoughts and feelings in a journal; creating a daily planning calendar; exercising and improving your diet.

Call your doctor or visit your closest mental health facility immediately if you have suicidal or violent feelings; changes in mood, sleep or energy or changes in medication side effects.