Ways to Treat Bipolar Disorder at Home and Online
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder—also called manic depression—is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings including alternating periods of extreme emotional highs (manias), extreme emotional lows (depressions), and intermediate stable moods. Manic episodes often last at least a week while depressive episodes often last at least two weeks, but every case is unique and the cycles can be frequent or rare.
Manic symptoms may include an exaggerated sense of confidence and optimism, a reduced need for sleep, grandiose ideas, reckless or impulsive behavior, irritability or aggression, poor judgment, and even hallucinations and delusions. Depressive symptoms may include constant fatigue, inability to concentrate or make simple decisions, prolonged sadness, indifference and pessimism, significant changes in sleep patterns and appetite, social withdrawal, and even suicidal thoughts. One case study followed a 19-year-old student with bipolar disorder whose behavior grew increasingly erratic and eccentric until eventually he withdrew from college. At one point, he drew the attention of campus police by pulling several fire alarms at his college dorm when there was no fire, simply because he was thinking about the life-and-death nature of fires.
Bipolar disorder is relatively common, affecting at least 5.7 million Americans or 2.6% of the population. In fact, bipolar disorder is the third most common behavioral health ailment for which SAMI-Aid members seek treatment, accounting for 16% of all SAMI-Aid psychiatry and therapy appointments, after anxiety at 34% and depression at 27% respectively. Bipolar disorder is not to be confused with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which has some similar symptoms but is less common. People with borderline personality disorder are said to have dramatic mood swings, take impulsive actions, and often view certain people or aspects of the world as either all good or all bad. Risk factors for both illnesses can be genetic (such as a close family member having the illness) or environmental (such as a traumatic life event). Both illnesses have been shown to be associated with physical, structural changes in the brain, although it is not known whether these changes are a cause or symptom of the disease.
Using Medications to Effectively Treat Bipolar Disorder
If you have bipolar disorder, you are likely taking prescription medications as part of your treatment plan. The most common types of medications for bipolar disorder include:
- Anticonvulsant mood stabilizers: According to a 2013 study published in the peer-reviews journal Pharmacological Reviews, lithium carbonate and valproic acid— originally used to treat epilepsy—are among the foremost medications now shown to relieve symptoms of mania and to reduce mood swings. Others include Lamictal (lamotrigine). Some of these medications are available through SAMI-Aid’s telepsychiatry.
- Antipsychotic medications: These medications are used to treat severe manic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Common examples include Abilify (aripiprazole), Risperdal (risperidone), Seroquel (quetiapine), and Zyprexa (olanzapine). Some of these medications are available through SAMI-Aid’s telepsychiatry.
- Antidepressants: Depression can be treated with antidepressants such as Lexapro (escitalopram) and Prozac (fluoxetine). While these medications are available through SAMI-Aid’s telepsychiatry, their use for treating bipolar depression specifically is controversial, as they can trigger manic episodes.
Medication alone is not the only important factor in treatment of behavioral health issues. You may wish to consider the following physician-approved recommendations for best results:
- Utilize talk therapy. Research shows that patients who take medication for bipolar disorder also benefit from talk therapy and are able to recover faster and control their moods better with therapy than without.
- Make any medication changes gradually. Do not stop or suddenly change your medication regimen without your doctor’s approval. It is generally recommended that you continue taking your bipolar medication for some time after you show signs of recovery, to prevent relapses.
- Keep track of side effects. If you experience any side effects from your medications, record them in detail and use the notes at your next visit to ask your doctor’s advice on how to minimize side effects. You should see your doctor at least twice per year or whenever you notice changes in your mood, thoughts, or behavior.
- Avoid antidepressants. Since bipolar depression behaves differently than regular depression, the treatment is also different. Doctors recommend trying mood stabilizers first and not taking mood stabilizers and antidepressants concurrently.
- Get regular blood tests. This is important if you take lithium, as high levels of lithium in the blood can be toxic. If your doctor prescribes lithium, make sure you take it in the correct dosages, drink plenty of fluids, get your blood tested regularly, and seek immediate care if you experience severe side effects.
Natural Mood Stabilizers for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
One partial root cause of mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and mania is a dysregulation of the mood-stabilizing hormones in the central nervous system. Therefore, substances or behaviors which act to stabilize a person’s mood may have therapeutic potential for treating mood-related behavioral health ailments. Natural and alternative mood stabilizers and enhancers include:
- Physical exercise: It is well established that physical exercise has broadly positive effects on mental and physical health outcomes. A 2016 review published in Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports states that exercise specifically shows “promise as an effective treatment for bipolar disorder adjunctive to mood-stabilizing medication”.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Since long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids—such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA)—reduce inflammation in the body, a diet high in Omega-3s may help mitigate some of the mood-dysregulating effects of inflammation. In other words, eating more salmon or taking a fish oil supplement could help with bipolar disorder and depression.
- Light therapy: Also called phototherapy or light box therapy, full-spectrum bright light exposure is sometimes used to treat depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to Mayo Clinic, light therapy may also be helpful for treating depressive episodes of bipolar disorder under physician direction.
- St. John’s Wort: According to a study by an independent research group at Cochrane, the herb St. John’s Wort can be similarly effective as some prescription antidepressants but with fewer side effects. If you currently take other prescription medications, ask your physician before taking St. John’s Wort concurrently.
- Rhodiola: A 2015 study in peer-reviewed journal Phytomedicine suggested that the herb Rhodiola rosea is moderately effective at treating depression, though not as effective as prescription antidepressants.
- SAMe: An academic review of research on the chemical compound S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe) suggests that it has some advantages over standard antidepressant drugs, though more in-depth clinical trials may be necessary.
While exploring holistic approaches to managing bipolar disorder is encouraged, sudden changes in your therapy or routine can be dangerous to your health. Before embarking on a new therapy, always consult with your physician for safety reasons, especially if your prospective therapy involves taking a substance which could cause harmful side effects or interactions with other drugs. If you are already taking medication or using supplemental therapies, it cannot hurt to simply ask your primary care doctor or psychiatrist for more advice on supplemental treatments.
Treating Bipolar Disorder and Other Behavioral Health Issues via Telehealth
Regular psychotherapy—or behavioral health therapy—is strongly recommended for all people who suffer from behavioral health issues such as bipolar disorder and depression. Many patients with bipolar disorder experience one to two major manic/depressive cycles per year; at these times, it is helpful to see a therapist. Seeing a therapist more often may be necessary for those who experience cycles more often or whose treatment plan involves more regular sessions, such as once per month. Fortunately, even when logistics or finances limit one’s access to in-person talk therapy, bipolar disorder treatment online is easily accessible through telehealth psychiatry services such as SAMI-Aid’s. If you book an appointment for an online therapy session, you can see a psychiatrist or therapist through a video call from your phone, laptop, or mobile device.
Talk therapy involves far more than merely talking. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the many popular types of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy works by identifying and restructuring negative beliefs and developing constructive ways of thinking.
- Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): This therapy focuses on developing a conscious perception of one's self-image in order to better connect with others.
- Exposure therapy: This method focuses on confronting triggers of fear or anxiety and desensitizing oneself through gradual exposure to the triggers.
- Interpersonal therapy: This refers to improving interpersonal skills, learning to better understand others and interact more positively with others.
- Animal-assisted therapy: Emotional supports animals (ESAs) as pets can be used to provide comfort and encouragement to anxious or depressed patients. While SAMI-Aid providers offer a wide range of therapy methods, they do not currently provide referral letters for ESAs.
Do you or a loved one suffer from bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or something similar? SAMI-Aid has compassionate behavioral health care providers who treat bipolar disorder, BPD, depression, and other mental health-related ailments. Treatment may involve talk therapy, medication, and more. Click here to join SAMI-Aid for free and gain instant access to our teletherapy and telepsychiatry services for just $59.99 per visit, or get 2 free visits per month with SAMI-Aid Premium for $79.99 per month. Click here to schedule a therapy session now for just $59.99. If you are dealing with a non-emergency mental health need, feel free to email us at email@example.com or call us at 1-844-SAMI-AID anytime. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 immediately.