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  • Talking to Your Doctor About Bipolar Disorder

    You have a unique medical history. Therefore, it is essential to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and/or experience with bipolar disorder. By talking openly and regularly with your doctor, you can take an active role in your care.
    Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to talk to your doctor:
    • Bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
    • Write out your questions ahead of time, so you don't forget them.
    • Write down the answers you get and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Ask for clarification, if necessary.
    • Don't be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. You have a right to know.
    • What can I do to keep these symptoms from interfering with my ability to function in my relationships, work, and home life?
    • What treatment options are available for me?
    • What medications might help me and how long will they take to work?
    • What side effects can I expect from my medications and what can I do about them?
    • Do you treat people with bipolar disorder?
    • If not, can you provide me with the names of mental health professionals who help people with bipolar disorder?
    If you decide to try counseling, interview counselors, social workers, psychologists, and/or family therapists who specialize in working with people (and their families) who have bipolar disorder. Make sure that you feel comfortable with the mental health professional. Some questions you may want to ask are:
    • What training and experience do you have in treating bipolar disorder?
    • How can you help my family members and significant others cope with my disorder?
    • What is your basic approach to treatment?
    • How long will I need to be treated for bipolar disorder?
    • How long are the sessions and how often will I have them?
    • What health insurance do you accept?
    • Do you offer sliding scale fees to accompany various financial circumstances?
    • Are there any lifestyle changes that can help me to manage bipolar disorder?
    • What resources are available that could help me with:
      • Eating better
      • Exercising regularly
      • Social support
      • Managing stress
      • Sleep and keeping a daily routine
    • What are my chances of successfully managing bipolar disorder?
    • How can I prevent a recurrence of symptoms?
    • What is likely to happen if I don’t take my medication?


    Belmaker RH. Bipolar disorder. N Engl J Med. 2004;351:476-486.

    Bipolar disorder. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/topics/topicbipolar.html. Accessed September 9, 2008.

    Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml. Updated June 2008. Accessed September 9, 2008.

    Hirschfeld RMA. Guideline Watch: Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar Disorder. 2nd ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2005.

    Hirschfeld RMA, Bowden CL, Gitlin MJ, et al. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder (revision). Am J Psychiatry. 2002;159:1-50.

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