Bipolar Disorder and Depression Diagnosis: What Happens Next

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

You have just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and possibly also depression. Where do you go from here? What should you do? How should you tell your family? Read on for information to help you decide what to do next.

Distressed patient troubled by diagnosis.

Take in the diagnosis

When you are first diagnosed, chances are you will be stunned, scared, or not believe it. Take some time to digest the information your doctor gave you. Let it sink in, go home, think about it. You don’t need to rush into doing anything or starting medication until you are ready.

Open book and laptop in a library.

Learn about bipolar disorder and depression

When you are diagnosed, you’ve likely been living with it for some time. You know how you feel, but now it is time to better understand why you feel that way. Why sometimes you are up (way up) and sometimes you don’t want to get out of bed. Read about bipolar disorder and depression, talk to other people who have them (offline or online), call your doctor back and ask questions. The more you learn, the more you will understand what this all means to you and your family.

Woman in a therapy session.

Discuss treatment options

Once you have had a chance to accept your diagnosis and learn about bipolar disorder and depression, set an appointment with your doctor. Discuss the treatment options available (medication, therapy) and ask what lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms. Ask about side effects of medications and the pros and cons of different types of medication. If your doctor is recommending a specific medication, ask why.

Woman writing on a notepad.

Write down your questions

Once you leave your doctor’s office, you will probably think of all the questions you didn’t ask. Use a notebook to keep a running list of questions. Take it with you to every doctor’s appointment so you are sure all of your questions are answered.

Mother comforting her daughter.

Telling your family

Managing bipolar disorder and depression is easier if you have the support of family and friends. Start by deciding who you want to tell. It’s important to have people you can turn to for help. Explain what bipolar disorder is and provide literature or URLs to some websites for them to learn more about it. Talk about ways you might need their help, for example, checking in when you are in a depressive episode or taking your car keys when you are manic. Provide concrete ways they can assist you.

Woman writing in a journal.

Mood tracking

Keep a journal of your moods, suggests the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. This helps you spot new episodes and get help before they get out of control as well as helping you identify patterns and things that cause stress or trigger either a depressive or manic episode. This is also important when you start a new medication. Share the information with your doctor so together you can decide if the medication is working or if it should be adjusted.

Woman using deep breathing techniques.

Create a list of self-help strategies for manic episodes

When you are going through a manic episode, it is easy to feel out of control. When you feel balanced, write down a list of steps you can take to help you manage the episode. For example, your list might include:

  • Deep breathing.
  • Call doctor or therapist.
  • Call a friend and ask them to stay with me until feeling stable.

Keep your list in a place where you can easily get to it when you are feeling out of control.

Distressed man talking on the phone.

Create a list of strategies for when you are in a depressive episode

Your list for strategies for depressive episodes might share some points with your list for manic episodes. But there might also be strategies just for depression, which can be good to have close by as a list, such as:

  • Call doctor immediately if I’m having suicidal thoughts.
  • Do one thing I enjoy, even if I don’t feel like doing it.
  • Remind myself that my life is valuable.
  • Remind myself that my brain is trying to deceive me.
  • Call the suicidal crisis center if I am having suicidal thoughts.
Support group.

Look for support groups

Talking to other people who have bipolar disorder and depression can help you not feel so alone. Support networks can also give you someone to reach out to when you are struggling. Look for support groups both offline and online. Check with your local mental health clinic, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for groups in your area.

Man taking pills.

Track your progress on medications

Everyone reacts differently to medication. It is not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder and depression to try several different medications or combination of medications before finding what works for them. It’s hard to remember how you felt or which one you liked most. Write down your moods and any side effects you experience. Never stop a medication without first talking to your doctor.

Hourglass on a beach.

Be patient

Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, it is a journey. It takes a while to learn about bipolar and depression, your moods and your triggers. Take your time and don’t get discouraged.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.