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Health & Wellness: 3 challenges to treating bipolar disorder

By Susie Fernando - Special to the Daily Herald | Oct 4, 2023

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Effective treatment of bipolar disorder can aid in stabilizing mood swings, reducing episode frequency and intensity, and enabling affected individuals to lead fulfilling lives.

Bipolar disorder, a complex and frequently misunderstood mental health condition, casts a profound influence on the lives of millions of people across the globe. In fact, 4.4% of adults in the U.S. are estimated to experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.

The disorder stands as a persistent mental health ailment that profoundly affects an individual’s emotional state, energy levels and everyday functioning. It distinguishes itself through two distinct mood episodes:

  • Manic episodes, marked by heightened and irritable moods, increased energy and impaired judgment.
  • Depressive episodes, characterized by overwhelming sadness, disinterest in activities and fatigue.

The consequences of untreated or poorly managed bipolar disorder can be devastating. Thus, effective treatment is imperative, as it aids in stabilizing mood swings, reducing episode frequency and intensity, and enabling affected individuals to lead fulfilling lives. However, challenges such as misdiagnosis, medication management and stigmas can prevent people from receiving the help they need.

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis

With a broad spectrum of symptoms — extending beyond mere mood swings to also encompass disruptions in energy levels, sleep patterns and cognitive functions — misdiagnosis is common for people with bipolar disorder. Research shows that 69% of patients with the condition are misdiagnosed initially, and more than one-third remain misdiagnosed for at least 10 years. Grasping the multifaceted nature of this illness is pivotal for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

Misdiagnoses can result in individuals receiving treatment for conditions they do not possess, leading to ineffective or potentially harmful interventions. These misdiagnoses often manifest as depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, further complicating the path to proper management and recovery.

Delayed diagnosis is another challenge that can have profound consequences on the trajectory of bipolar disorder, exacerbating symptoms, increasing the risk of hospitalization and diminishing overall prognosis. Recognizing the repercussions of delayed diagnosis emphasizes the urgency of early intervention and the importance of health care professionals’ vigilance in recognizing the disorder within their patients.

Medication management

Medication stands as a cornerstone in the management of bipolar disorder, facilitating mood stabilization and preventing relapses. It serves as a vital tool in alleviating the intense highs and lows characteristic of the condition. However, the path to effective medication management can be fraught with challenges.

Identifying the most suitable medication often involves an intricate process of trial and error. Bipolar disorder is highly individualized, and what proves effective for one person may not work for another. Consequently, patients and health care providers must experiment with various medications and dosages to find the optimal combination for that patient.

Another obstacle in bipolar medication treatment is the potential for side effects. These side effects — ranging from weight gain to cognitive impairment — can sometimes lead to noncompliance, wherein patients discontinue or modify their medication regimen without consulting their health care provider. This noncompliance can compromise the effectiveness of treatment and exacerbate the disorder’s symptoms.

Encouraging open communication between patients and health care providers, as well as exploring alternative medications or therapeutic approaches, can help mitigate the challenges of finding the right medication.

Stigma and treatment barriers

The stigma surrounding mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, can create a barrier for people who need help. Many individuals fear judgment, discrimination or misconceptions associated with the condition, preventing them from seeking treatment. An estimated 60% of people with a mental health condition will avoid seeking help in order to avoid being labeled.

“Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health is an ongoing challenge that must be addressed on a societal level to improve access to care not only for bipolar disorder but for all mental health conditions,” says Dr. Marsha Chinichian, clinical director of behavioral health at Generations Healthcare, a behavioral health and skilled nursing company in California. “How many more people would have access to the help they need if they weren’t afraid to step forward and ask for it?”

Open conversations about mental health and the promotion of empathy and acceptance are pivotal to reducing stigma and fostering an environment wherein individuals with bipolar disorder feel safe seeking help, adhering to treatment plans and leading fulfilling lives.

The journey of treating bipolar disorder is fraught with multiple challenges brought on by the complexities of symptom management and the pervasive stigma that surrounds this condition. These hurdles can make the pursuit of effective treatment a difficult process, but they are not insurmountable. If you or someone you know is living with bipolar disorder, remember that you are not alone. Treatment is available. With perseverance, patience and a commitment to dismantling the barriers of stigma, individuals living with bipolar disorder can regain control of their lives and embark on a path toward stability, wellness and a brighter future.

Susie Fernando is a project manager at Stage Marketing, a full-service content marketing agency based in Pleasant Grove.


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