This myth often shocks people, and please know that I’m not saying that meds don’t work. They're an essential part of any plan. I use them daily for certain symptoms, but they're rarely enough to stop mood swings. To truly manage bipolar, the majority of people with the illness must regulate sleep, focus on healthy relationships, and avoid triggering behaviors (traveling without careful planning, accepting shift work, taking too many classes) and substances (antidepressants, stimulants, steroids, and marijuana due to THC).
If our lifestyle increases bipolar symptoms, all medications can do is keep a lid on a boiling pot. Side effects are the number one complaint about medications. By focusing on lifestyle changes first, we reduce the need for high doses of medications and automatically reduce nasty side effects. In my opinion, medications are for what we can’t manage on our own.
“It’s true that there's a dogma that medications are the only treatment for bipolar," says Jim Phelps, M.D., the author of three books on bipolar and founder of psycheducation.org . "It’s entrenched in much of the literature, but it’s just not correct. Putting management techniques first and meds second is so important.” Our current health care system is behind the curve when it comes to this myth. Medications are important, but lifestyle education comes first."