Questions and Answers About Bipolar Disorder

Newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Our Bipolar Expert Dr. Dan Haupt answers some common questions about to help guide you through the process of understanding and coping with this condition.

Here are some common questions and issues to think about regarding a diagnosis of bipolar disorder:

1. How do I know that I have bipolar disorder?

Ideally, your doctor should be basing this diagnosis on a combination of interviews with you and others who know the course of your illness. Your doctor should be able to explain to you why they believe this is the appropriate diagnosis.

2. Is my life over?

No, an accurate diagnosis can pave the way to a happy and successful life. The sooner a successful treatment plan is begun, the better. Sticking to this plan will likely result in a better course of the illness.

3. Will the medications cure me?

No, the current treatments all reduce symptoms; they do not cure the illness.

4. Will I "grow out of it" or can it go away?

Unfortunately, adults that meet the criteria for bipolar disorder are likely to suffer from this illness for life. Because of this, it is important to identify a treatment strategy that works and stick with it. Sticking to a treatment plan also minimizes the chances of behavior that could damage family, friend, and work relationships.

5. What should I tell my family? My boss?

Families should understand that this illness might interfere with your functioning, but that family support is extremely helpful for people with bipolar disorder. They need to understand that people with bipolar disorder might say things during a symptom exacerbation that they do not truly believe or wish they hadn't said. They may engage in behaviors that are a direct result of their illness, and are not reflective of the person they are when they are stable.

Children, especially biological ones, should be given information as appropriate. Eventually, probably by early adolescence, childrenshould know that their parent suffers from an illness that could increase the child's risk of developing a similar condition. Be sure to discuss the second point above during this conversation.

Work is a trickier situation. I would recommend limiting disclosure to the bare minimum necessary. Psychiatrists are usually happy to write generic medical excuses on generic letterhead in order to protect their patients' privacy when the illness interferes with work responsibilities.

6. What can I do to minimize the effects of this illness?

"Baby" your brain. Give it the best environment you can. Take care of your body with exercise, good nutrition, and a regular sleep schedule. Minimize or eliminate street drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Maintain healthy relationships. I usually tell patients that while lots of people seem to be able to "get away" with not taking care of themselves, or using drugs or alcohol, people with major mental illnesses should make every effort to maximize their health.