Self Help
Alternative Treatment

Treatment for Bipolar Affective Disorder

Other Than Medication

* We are in the process of updating the information in this section *

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Length of Treatment

     Professional therapy and treatment is necessary in treating bipolar affective disorder.  Treatment is usually supervised by a psychiatrist, a medical doctor with extra education in diseases of the mind.  Medication is the primary treatment, although psychotherapy plays a crucial part in helping individuals to understand their illness and rebuild their lives. 

     Bipolar Affective Disorder is a recurrent illness and maintenance treatment is a life long affair. 

     Without maintenance therapy the risk for recurrence of illness is high.  In one study, as many as half the individuals developed new episodes of bipolar illness within five months after discontinuation.  In addition, some psychiatrists report that, in people who suffered recurrences of illness after discontinuing lithium, the drug was no longer as effective for them as it had once been. 

Medication - Self Medicating and Non Compliance

     See the section "Treatment - Medications" on this web site for information about medications prescribed by doctors for the treatment of bipolar disorder. 

     Non compliance with medication orders is a common trait among bipolars.  Once an episode is over and they are feeling well they no longer see the need for taking medicine.  Even when they recognize the need for it some people simply don't like taking medication and will discontinue it.  Bipolars need to realize that taking medication for maintenance purposes is similar to that of a diabetic taking insulin to maintain health. 

     Self medicating with alcohol or other drugs is common in bipolars and leads to mood instability.  It makes long-term treatment of bipolar affective disorder difficult, if not impossible to achieve. 

Physical Treatment

     There are many vegetative or bodily symptoms associated with Bipolar Affective Disorder.  In addition, physical illness may mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder.  A physician will be able to assess these symptoms, make a diagnoses and prescribe treatment when required. 


     Psychotherapy by itself - no matter what kind - cognitive, behavioral, or psychodynamic has not been proven effective in the treatment of bipolar affective disorder.  The illness is a biochemical one requiring the use of medication to stabilize the basic mood disorder. 

     However, psychotherapy is a useful adjunctive treatment and helps bipolars to understand their illness and the stresses of their everyday lives that may trigger an episode.  It will also help restore lost self esteem and teach ways to prevent relapses. 

     Psychotherapy also can help bipolars improve relationships with others, learn to recognize early signs of mood swings and manage the ups and downs of the illness.  Coping skills, learned through psychotherapy, enable the bipolar to handle the mood swings. 

     Like any normal person, bipolars sometimes have various psychological symptoms requiring the intervention of a skilled therapist, and these needs should be met. 

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

     ECT is a treatment used mainly for those bipolars who are unable to safely wait until medication becomes effective, who cannot tolerate the medications, who have been unresponsive to medication, or who prefer ECT. 

     ECT is considered to be an extremely effective treatment for both manic and depressed phases of bipolar disorder.  It is the treatment of choice for pregnant women, particularly in the first trimester. 

     Maintenance ECT may be useful in preventing future manic episodes. 

     Some experts believe that ECT is underutilized as a treatment for acute mania, and it may become more widely used for this purpose in the future. 

     Francis M. Mondimore writes this interesting tid-bit in his book Depression: The Mood Disease:  "I find it fascinating that both ECT, a treatment that causes seizures, and anticonvulsants, medications to prevent seizures, can both be effective treatments for the manic state.  No one knows why this should be.  It only serves to remind us how mysterious and complicated an illness Bipolar Affective Disorder is." 


     Hospitalization may be required for the following individuals in the depressed state:
1.  Patients who can not care for themselves
2.  Patients considered to be at high risk for suicide
3.  Patients who may harm others
4.  Patients who do not have a safe supportive living environment
5.  Patients who require detoxification from drugs or alcohol
6.  Patients who have complicating mental or medical problems
7.  Patients who do not improve on outpatient therapy

     The length of the hospital stay varies, depending on the severity of the depression, the availability of supportive family members, and often the amount of health insurance coverage. 

     Hospitalization may be required in the following manic individuals:
1.  Patients who develop psychotic symptoms
2.  Patients who require constant supervision to keep them from harming themselves or others
3.  Patients who have lost all sense of judgment
4.  Patients who are out of control
5.  Patients who have lost touch with reality

     Again, the length of the hospital stay varies, according to the severity of the mania and response to treatment.

Self Help

     Self help groups are springing up all over the country.  Many of them are members of The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association or The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. 

     Professional help is always needed in the treatment of Bipolar Illness, but the understanding, fellowship and support of fellow-sufferers can make an invaluable contribution to recovery.  Education is important in self help groups and often experts come in to lecture on appropriate topics. 

     Members help themselves by helping each other, sharing problems, variations in cycling or symptoms, tips for easing the side effects of medications and different ways of coping with the disorder. 

     Most important of all, they reach out to others who truly understand, as no one else can, exactly how frightening, isolating and upsetting bipolar affective disorder can feel.

Outlook for Treated Bipolars

     Bipolar Illness tends to be chronic and recurrent.  Without treatment, a manic episode can last as long as three months, and a depressive episode much longer.  With treatment the prognosis for any given episode is good but many bipolars continue to have persistent mood  swings, particularly recurrent or mild depression.  Even those receiving maintenance treatment with lithium and other mood stabilizers may have "breakthrough" episodes of mania or depression, sometimes provoked by stress. 

     However, with treatment episodes will prove to be less severe and of much shorter duration.

Dealing With Stigma

     We have Bipolar Affective Disorder.....a mental illness!!! 

     Each one of us has felt the painful sting of stigma...the friend who no longer calls, the sister who won't visit a psychiatric hospital (even though she'd be the first one there at another hospital), the looks from people...the prolonged silences...the people who talk to you like you've just reached your 3rd birthday...and those who won't talk at all.  Sound familiar?  That is stigma. 

     I've come to realize that anyone who really matters to me will make the effort to understand me and the illness, and how it has affected me.  I no longer try to convince anyone I am normal....I am not.  But I am a good person with an illness, and I feel sorry for anyone who can not understand.  I have not only lost them, they have lost me.



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