wikiHow to Seek Help for Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

Bipolar disorder is recognized to be a serious physical illness that affects the brain. It causes mood swings, which can vary in intensity. Intense highs can result in excessive and sometimes dangerous risk taking, hallucinations and delusions. Intense lows can result in hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and mental frustration.

Those who have the illness need treatment, support from friends, family, and good doctors.

Keep in mind, this is not something that you can deal with by using the latest vitamin supplements, by getting more exercise or by "snapping out of it". However, exercise and diet can help a person in recovery when used in addition to western culturally accepted methods.


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    Recognize that you have the illness; denial is huge among people who have mental illness. If more than one psychiatrist and/or social worker and/or psychotherapist has suggested that you have this illness, consider carefully the fact that there is a good chance that you are suffering from a dangerous yet mostly treatable illness. Know that no one wants to own up to being 'different', no one wants to be classified as mentally ill, but the fact is that if you do have bipolar disorder, you have it whether or not you believe you have it, whether or not you want to have it. Accept it.
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    Take responsibility for your recovery. While you are dependent upon many other people for their help, you are the one who is going to get better or not, who is going to continue to suffer if your illness is not treated correctly, so you are the one who has to direct this. You will likely need a psychotherapist or counselor AND a psychiatrist.(Doctors and therapists are not "shrinks". You need the support of your family and friends, and you need to seek out others who have your illness for understanding and companionship (more on this later). While all of the people involved can and will help you, it is up to you to become as well as you can. Be proactive.
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    Learn everything you possibly can about your illness. Read every book you can lay your hands on, not only about diagnostics and treatment plans but also stories of others who have lived with and do live with your illness. Learn the language of the illness; make sure to read DSM4 (the latest diagnostics manual for docs, which you can find online if you are willing to dig a little, and you are going to dig a lot) so you can have an idea of how you might diagnose yourself. Try to find yourself in the descriptions listed there, familiarize yourself with the words, so as to not be intimidated and are not walking blindly in your recovery. There is a tremendous amount of information available online, much of it very, very good. The 'net is a great asset. Use it.
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    Learn about psychiatric medications prescribed for bipolar disorder. Read about medications that are commonly prescribed for your illness - it is your body, and while the psychiatrist is the one with the pad in his or her hand, you are the one who is going to be putting this stuff into your body. Learn the possible side effects of all medications your doctor prescribes for you. Have an idea prior to heading in to see your doctor what medication might be prescribed and be able to discuss this with the doctor intelligently. Ask questions. KNOW YOUR STUFF!!! It is quite easy to gain a lot of knowledge before you enter your doctor's office and you CAN have a say in what he/she prescribes. MAKE SURE that the doctor knows of ALL the medications and supplements you take, prescription or not.Also tell the doctor if you eat a lot of grapefruit or drink a lot of grapefruit juice as grapefruits cause interactions with many medications. Also BE HONEST about your alcohol intake. It can GREATLY impact the medications and their performance. Be sure to keep a journal of and and all side effects that arise no matter how insignificant you think it may be and share them with your doctor at your next visit, sooner if it is serious.
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    Know the difference between weirdo-pharmacologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers, counselors. It's a new world, and confusing to the uninitiated. Here is a short list of some of the players you'll encounter:
    • Pharmacologists are psychiatrists who have two additional years of schooling after completing medical school and then a psychiatric residency. These extra years are devoted to learning brain chemistry and how various medications interact. If you are lucky, your medical plan will allow you to see one. They make upwards of three hundred bucks an hour, and are worth it if you get a good one.
    • Psychiatrists are doctors who, after med school, serve a residency in a psychiatric setting. It used to be that psychiatrists were into Freud and/or Jung and/or Adler or what have you and years were wasted talking about your id or white rats or whatever, but very few practice that form of therapy any longer; you'll likely see a psychiatrist for diagnosis and medical treatment.
    • Psychotherapists are people trained in helping other people resolve issues related to depression, but they are not really much help to a person with bipolar disorder unless/until bipolar disorder is under control; only then can a person with bipolar disorder benefit from that type of therapy.
    • Counselors are people trained in short-term counseling, helping people find out what their problems are and helping them resolve them in short order, if the problems are the sort of problems which can be resolved in short order. Usually they can also connect the person they are seeing to whatever/whomever they need to connect with to seek help with problems which cannot be resolved in the short term.
    • Social workers can run a pretty large area of ground, can cover things usually covered by a psychotherapist, can act as a counselor, and can act as an agent to help people in need connect with the services that will help them resolve their difficulties.

      Counselors and social workers are the least easily defined category because they both can conceivably cover quite a large territory, depending upon what their job entails, who it is they work for, if they are in private practice, etc.
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    Get a good psychiatrist. What if your first encounter, or your first, second, and third encounter with psychiatry is bad news? Well, welcome to the club. It's like trying to find a mountaineering instructor when you're caught high on a mountain in a heavy storm, maybe a blizzard, and you've got to trust this person when they tell you how to tie what rope and where to tie it. But you've got to find that right person, and you can. That person is out there. Maybe you'll hit gold on your first time out, maybe not until your fourth. Just because the doctor is warm and caring does not mean that they are worth the weight of their white coat; just because they're cold and abrupt does not mean they aren't the best doc in the land. There are great docs in free clinics and then there are "Harvard-wallpapered" idiots costing hundreds of dollars an hour. Ideally, we'd all find Dr. Kildare or Ben Casey or Marcus Welby MD or whatever, they'd all have nice smiles and good clothes breath like wintergreen and our problems would be solved in less than an hour, minus the commercial breaks. Not likely. Learning to get a good doctor will take you time but you've got time, you've got the rest of your life (provided your depression is not so powerful that you take your life), and you want to live it as best you can. So learn how to find a good doctor. Then do so.
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    Be willing to explore all possible causes and treatments. Do an internet search on this subject, and thoroughly explore and investigate all the suggestions and information that you unearth. For example, consider the possibility that your bipolar condition is caused or aggravated by the lack of Omega 3 oils in your diet. Most coastal countries where fish is a daily staple, such as Japan, have a much lower incidence of bipolar and other mental diseases than countries where fish is not eaten on as regular a basis. There are a number of studies (which can be accessed on the internet) that have shown that the EPA and DHA in fish oil can greatly help in the control of this disease. Of course, one should not try to self-medicate, but it is something that can be discussed with the doctor. And if fish oil is added to ones diet, make sure it is a high-quality, contaminant-free oil, such as Natural Factors "RxOmega-3 Factors"(check out for great prices).
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    Consider that the bipolar condition may be partially or totally caused by the lack of certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids and oils in the system. This is not an area where one should even think of experimenting with self-treatment, but it is an area that should be thoroughly examined. This kind of treatment must only be done by experts, after a blood/urine/hair analysis is done. The Pfeiffer Treatment Center near Chicago is probably the premier facility at doing this type of treatment in the U.S. This out-patient-only treatment facility has treated nearly 20,000 clients with behavioral problems from 70 countries the past 18 years with a high success rate (and this isn't counting the thousands of patients they treated for a number of years before they officially took the name of Pfeiffer Treatment Center in 1989). Pfeiffer does not try to get you off your normal medications - they try to correct any bio-chemical imbalances you may have, so that your medicine works better; thus you may very well find that you eventually need less medicine, are more stable, and have far fewer relapses. The initial visit and testing (which takes about 4 hrs) costs about $900-$1200. The first followup visit is usually in 4-6 months for retesting and adjustments if necessary, then followup testing is only once a year from that point on. This testing is necessary to make sure your supplements are adjusted as your condition changes/improves. They also do outreach visits every few months to several cities across the USA. More information about them can be found at: More in depth information about natural treatments in general can be found at: Realize that although natural treatments possibly can help greatly, and thus medicine levels possibly reduced, this should only be done under the care of a doctor. Most often real, lasting stability is achieved with a combination of both natural supplements and medicines, not on natural supplements or medicines alone.
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    Consider getting natural, full-spectrum lighting in your home. Often the manic phase of bipolar seems to rear its ugly head in the darker months of the year. This may be because the lack of sunlight can slow down the body's production of certain neurotransmitters. This seasonal problem can often be helped by substituting the normal yellowish-light-producing incandescent lightbulbs most homes use with full-spectrum, screw-in fluorescent bulbs. I am NOT talking about the "natural" light bulbs sold in most grocery stores or home supply stores, which are only slightly better than a normal bulb. I am talking about bulbs (they are ALWAYS fluorescent) that are 92%-95% full spectrum, such as may be found at, or better yet, at They are a bit expensive - price can range from $10 to $20 each for 18 watt to 30 watt bulbs, depending where you buy them (fullspectrumsolutions has some 30 wt bulbs for about $12 - a great price!). A 30 wt bulb is equivalent to 125-150 watts of incandescent lighting. These bulbs are advertised to use up to 80% less electricity and last 5 times longer than incandescent bulbs. I can tell you from experience that natural lighting provides a light that will make your old lighting seem reminiscent of that found in a dimly-lit bar. You will probably want to have at least 2 of the 30 watt bulbs lit and in your proximity in the room you're going to be in, to assure that you are exposed to enough beneficial natural light, as exposure to about 300 watts (as measured in incandescent equivalents) is recommended.
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    Get a support group and use it. There are bipolar support groups in most cities. These are often sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness - this organization has a tremendous amount of information and support to offer: or by a local hospital. City and County services can be helpful too and you can also find unbelievable support online or through There are many chat rooms or boards which exist solely for the discussion of bipolar disorder. The people you meet on these boards will often know firsthand the effects of many of the drugs prescribed for you, and can help you determine if your doctor is a crackpot or not--having suffered as you have, they will offer large support. It's important to find the people you want, however you choose to do it. View the links below, and don't be afraid to search for 'bipolar chat rooms' in a major search engine. While a good doctor and/or counselor and/or social worker and/or psychotherapist can give tremendous understanding and support, you may find that the most support comes from people with your illness, and you can find them 24/7/365 online. Who do you turn to in the night when you're running a bit manic, can't sleep, your medication side effects are kicking your butt, your head hurts, your feet stink, and you don't love Jesus? A chat room could be the answer. Everyone there will 'get it'; you won't have to explain yourself, you won't feel like a dope, and everyone is in the same boat.
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    Develop an awareness of your cycles. Develop an awareness of your ups and downs, the cycles of your illness. Some people recommend keeping a chart, graphing our ups and downs. This can be helpful for some, but the most important thing is to recognize signs of when you are at risk of becoming manic or depressive. These are called your "danger times", and could be ongoing, or perhaps changing in a weekly or biweekly pattern, whatever. Find out what your cycles are and be especially careful at those times.
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    Know that this is a deadly illness. It is very dangerous, and prone to getting worse if left untreated. In fact, 15% of all people that suffer from bipolar disorder will commit suicide. Untreated, the depressive piece of your illness can tell you unbelievable lies, and get you to believe them. You can become convinced that suicide is the appropriate response to a broken relationship, or a broken shoelace. The manic piece can get you into trouble on eBay, or with your neighbor's wife - basically, it can take control if you let it. Find whatever help you can.
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    Do not settle for less than happiness. 2/3 of all people suffering from bipolar disorder can be helped with medication and other supports, and if you are persistent, you have a very good chance of finding the right combination of medications and support to allow you a happy life, a good life. There is a tremendous awareness of the illness in recent years, and amazingly powerful medications also; you can get the help you need, don't settle for less than good, and shoot for happy.


  • Read. Talk. Learn. Find out all you can about your illness, take a proactive stance in your treatment regimen, don't let your doctor or anyone else completely dominate this show - it is your life, it's not your fault that you got this danged illness but it is your responsibility to reach for the very best life that you can.
  • Keep your appointments with all involved. Once again, once you get to feeling better, it becomes very easy to blow it off, not talk to the social worker, dust off the shrink appointment. Don't do this. You're on the road back to hell if you do.
  • Bipolar Disorder and Manic Depression are the exact same illness. It is now called bipolar because of the two poles, mania and depression. (There is not yet a cool song called 'Bipolar Disorder'; Hendrix wrote 'Manic Depression' and isn't it just great?)
  • Don't stop until you have found happiness While it is of course a huge relief to no longer be under the gun of suicidal thinking and/or the lunacy of manic runs, you needn't stop at just being 'okay'. It is possible for most with the illness to get to feeling really good, and not feeling really good as in manic but maybe just like other people feel, at ease. Peace, even. Strive for that; you maybe won't get it but you'll not get it for sure if you don't strive for it.
  • Be well-informed about your illness. The best way to do this is read, read, read! Some suggested reading:

    • Too Good To Be True? Nutrients Quiet the Unquiet Brain: A Four Generation Bipolar Odyssey by David Moyer (Nu-Tune)
    • New Hope for People with Bipolar Disorder: Your Friendly, Authoritative Guide to the Latest in Traditional and Complementary Solutions... by Jan Fawcett, MD (Three Rivers)
    • The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know by David Miklowitz (The Guilford)
    • The Natural Medicine Guide to Bipolar Disorder by Stephanie Marohn (Hampton Roads)
    • Bipolar Disorder: Insights for Recovery by Jane Mountain, MD (Chapter One)
    • Overcoming Depression and Manic Depression (Bipolar Disorder) A Whole-Person Approach by Paul Wider (Wellness Communications)
    • Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You... That You Need to Know by John McManamy (Collins)
    • Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie A. Fast (New Harbinger)
    • Bipolar Disorder Demystified: Mastering the Tightrope of Manic Depression by Lana R. Castle (Marlowe and Company)
  • Observe. The best way to do this is to keep a mood chart or journal. Preferably one with a spot for a journal entry or note.
  • Trust your support group. While you must take responsibility for your recovery, you must also listen when people in your support group (once you've built one) tell you that it seems you're depressed, or running manic, or whatever. It's a hard call, when to trust yourself, and when not to, but if you've given these people the right and responsibility to be in your life in this capacity, you've got to at the very least give them a listen, a serious listen.
  • Take your medication! Even if you feel better! Sometimes denial sets in and you think 'I don't need this junk anymore.' and you toss the medication out the window and are on your way back to hell. Mania is seductive, it feels good to be manic or at least makes you feel arrogant enough not to take them. Due to this, you'll come up with reasons not to take your medication. Some of the medications used to treat Bipolar have unpleasant or intolerable side effects. Keep in mind that although it is very important to get and maintain treatment if you have Bipolar, you do have the right to refuse any medication the doctor prescribes. Refusing to take a certain medication isn't refusing treatment. Talk with your doctor, see if s/he has an alternative medication to try.
  • Listen If a friend or family member seems very concerned about you, listen and see what you can do to help the situation.


  • Using Recreational Drugs It seems as though the use of drugs can turn milder form of bipolar disorder into raging case of the disease. In other words, use of drugs can be bad news if you have bipolar disorder in your family background. It is in fact a physical illness, passed on through your parents genetics, but it can become more interesting if it is hurried along and helped along with the use of drugs. Be aware.
  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. Many people that suffer from this disease use alcohol and/or various drugs to sort of self-medicate. This can lead to alcoholism and/or drug addiction, and then you've got not only recovery from bipolar disorder to deal with but also recovery from alcoholism and/or drug addiction.
  • Never put down a sufferer. Some people think it is acceptable to call those of us who happen to suffer from bipolar disorder, "bipolars". This is obviously unethical. Calling name to them is a very immature act. People that have Bipolar disorder are people that merely suffer from a disease! It is a physical illness that affects the brain. They can even have another reason to commit suicide.
  • Alcohol and Drugs Most psychiatric medications preclude drinking and/or using drugs while on the medications. If you do drink or drug while on the medications, they will not work as well, if at all.
  • Medications Take your medications, once you've found medications which work for you. And take them long enough to determine if they are going to work for you.
  • Mixed States. Mixed States is its very own hell, a subset of bipolar disorder where you have both mania and depression running at the same time. Yikes! Many sufferers are mixed states, or are at different times or year or just whenever in our cycle we get into mixed states. Mixed states sounds sorta friendly; imagine North and South Carolina having a dance together, or maybe a fair. But mixed states are **** sure not friendly, or fun, either - imagine the thought patterns (down) and mood (down) of depression mixed with the energy (up up up) of mania - it's like driving an airplane into the ground. Be aware.
  • Bipolar disorder is potentially deadly. Become aware of your moods, particularly if/when you are depressed. If you feel suicidal, get help. Call the Emergency Services or your local crisis center immediately!

Sources and Citations

  • Bipolar World: Chat
  • Weird Meds Don't be discouraged by the title of this website, it's a great source for researching the type(s) of medication you are on or are looking into taking.

Article Info

Categories: Depression | Bipolar Disorder