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Managing Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 | 3-minute read

There is no single cause of bipolar disorder, although for some Veterans their symptoms intensify when they experience stressful events, difficult living or working environments, or challenging family situations.

Bipolar disorder cannot be cured, but it can be treated effectively over the long term. Treatment for bipolar disorder usually involves medication combined with some form of individual and family counseling, and it should always be tailored to your specific needs. Read on to learn about strategies for managing symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Medication

Some symptoms of bipolar disorder are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters, which send signals to different areas of the brain. When the neurotransmitters are overstimulated or blocked, the signals become confused, and feelings may move unpredictably between euphoria and depression.

Prescription medications help align neurotransmitter levels, affecting the chemicals in your brain that may be associated with mood swings and depression.

Jessie, a U.S. Navy Veteran, was initially wary of taking medication for her condition. She spent years experiencing the ups and downs of bipolar disorder before she decided to try it. “I was thinking, you know, I can do it on my own,” she says. “And I couldn’t. And they gave me the medicine and it actually really did help. I was really surprised, and I feel great because of it.”

A medication that works well for one Veteran may not help another, so it’s important to work closely with your doctor to find one that works for you.

Counseling

Therapy can help Veterans with bipolar disorder recognize when they’re experiencing a bipolar episode. Working with a therapist to become aware of their symptoms can help develop strategies to manage their condition. “They try to get you to see your problems, and then they build you back up,” says Garry, a Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Therapy also can provide you with new ways to relate to your thoughts and feelings, including strategies that you can apply when you feel off-balance.

“Just 'cause you’re having a blue day, that doesn’t mean you can just say, 'I’m gonna make myself better,'” says Randy, a U.S. Navy Veteran. “No, there’s tricks to the trade. And the only way to learn those tricks is go to a therapist.”

Continuous Support

Remaining open to continuous treatment and support for bipolar disorder, and leaning on a support system of friends and family, can help you keep an eye on your symptoms.

“I really rely on my husband and my mom to … look for red flags,” says Ambrosia, a U.S. Army Veteran. “That way I’m getting an outside perspective, and that’s the best way to control it.” Regular appointments with a therapist can help Veterans maintain consistent support and stay on the path to recovery.

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to understand, but by learning to manage its symptoms, Veterans can begin to feel more in control of their lives.

“I thought I was gonna die, and now I’m looking forward to doing better things in life,” says Mike, a U.S. Army Veteran. “I look more towards the future — and a happy future — instead of seeing a darkness and a what-if.”


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