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Psychoeducation and Lifestyle Management for Bipolar Disorder

The following treatment guidelines are meant as a reference tool only, and are not intended as treatment advice or to replace the clinical decision-making process of psychiatrists or other health professionals who administer these treatments. In clinical practice there are often good reasons why treatment approaches differ from what is described here.

 

Psychoeducation is the process of explaining the ins and outs of a mental health condition to an individual. Mental health professionals are usually the ones who will give this form of education, which can be offered to individuals on a one-on-one basis or in groups. Psychoeducation sessions can also involve family members.

In Bipolar Disorder, psychoeducation includes helping individuals understand the nature of their condition and develop an awareness of how various experiences that they have from time to time are actually symptoms of the disorder. By recognizing the various symptoms and early warning signs of their mood episodes, individuals can work with their mental health providers to prevent and preempt episodes. Sometimes, this can include setting up a detailed plan of action of what to do when certain symptoms, such as mood changes or insomnia, occur.

Studies have shown that receiving psychoeducation can prevent and also reduce the duration of Manic Episodes [ref].

Lifestyle Management for Bipolar Disorder

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is also an extremely important part of managing one's Bipolar Disorder, and psychoeducation is key to helping individuals learn about this and implement this in their lives.

It has been found that there are five situations that have a high likelihood of triggering a recurrence of a Bipolar mood episode (Major Depressive, Manic, Hypomanic or Mixed Episode).  These are:

  • Not getting enough sleep [ref, ref].
  • Not taking one's medications as prescribed [ref].
  • Abusing illicit drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Experiencing life stresses, such as problems at work, at school, in family, in relationships, etc. [ref, ref]
  • Having residual symptoms from one's previous episode [ref, ref].

Of these five situations, it is plain to see that the first three, and to an extent the fourth as well, are all elements of one's lifestyle that could be modified.  For this reason, it is important that individuals suffering from Bipolar Disorder make every effort to address these issues with the help and support of their families, friends and health care providers.

Maintaining a healthy and regular sleep pattern

It is very important that individuals with Bipolar Disorder maintain a regular sleep pattern, which means going to bed and waking up at consistent times, and aiming for 6-9 hours of sleep per night.  Sometimes, when one is faced with more work, or during weekends and vacations, it may be tempting to sleep less, but this can spell trouble for people with Bipolar Disorder.  Drinking caffeinated beverages like coffee and soft-drinks should be kept to a minimum. Changing time zones must also be done with caution.

Taking medications regularly and as prescribed

When it comes to taking medications, it is important that if the individual is not taking their pills as prescribed, that they mention this to their doctor so that the reasons for this can be addressed. 

There are some common reasons why people don't take their medications regularly, such as experiencing side-effects, feeling uncomfortable or against the very idea of taking mediations, or feeling that they are left on their own to manage their condition without much support from friends or family [ref]. The best way to address these obstacles is for the individual to receive as much information as possible about the nature of their condition and the treatments that are available. Side-effects can usually be managed by changing the dose of the medications or switching to something else.

Doctors have an important role to play in helping their patients remain consistent with taking the medications, by addressing all of the above concerns and by being available to the patient for questions so that trust can be developed.

Avoiding drugs and excessive alcohol

Using illicit drugs, or drinking excessively, is quite common among individuals with Bipolar Disorder, but is also a reason for why many of these individuals will have a difficult course of their illness. If someone with Bipolar Disorder is unable to control their substance use on their own, it is important that they seek treatment for their substance use problem. 

Avoiding and managing life stresses

Sometimes life stresses like problems at work or in relationships are unavoidable.  Nevertheless, here too there may be steps that a person can take to reduce the risk of such problems getting the better of them.  For example, individuals may choose jobs that are less stressful and demanding.  Having a close circle of friends, or being connected to family members and to a community, can also help people to cope better with life stresses. Maintaining a consistent and manageable lifestyle routine is important.  Psychotherapy is a good way to learn various skills to help oneself become better at managing stressful situations.

 

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Overview of Treatments

Psychotherapy