Several people have asked me if self-help for bipolar is really possible. I have managed to make a huge improvement in my own bipolar condition but at this stage I don’t have enough evidence to say how well it will work in all cases since bipolar affects us all so differently. I can only go on what I’ve experienced myself, read online or in books or from what I’ve gathered by speaking to other people with the condition. Our highs and lows are not the same as each other. Also we all have varying levels of accompanying disorders like anxiety, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, addictions, anger, cognitive impairment, memory loss etc.
Some people do not have the financial resources available for professional treatment or there may be no free or viable treatment available in their country. In this case I would say that you should definitely make a start on getting yourself better as you can make great strides on your own versus doing nothing at all.
Many healthcare professionals don’t fully understand bipolar and can alienate patients if they don’t have enough experience or knowledge about it. This can lead to a trust issue where some individuals will not seek treatment as they are under the opinion that it will harm them in the long run. I would suggest gaining a good grasp of what is necessary to make improvements and discussing the multi-directional approach with your healthcare professional if possible. If you have already decided that you will not seek professional help then of course it’s better to do what you can on your own but keep an open mind to finding the right professional in the future should you need it.
My personal, non-professional, unqualified opinion (this means I’m not a doctor and you should take professional advice before making any decision) is that I think if you have the following characteristics then you stand the best chance of being able to manage your bipolar condition by yourself.
1. You don’t have more than very occasional, fleeting suicidal thoughts. In other words you don’t ever seriously plan your death or feel like you could easily take your own life and only think about suicide very briefly, if at all. If you have more serious suicidal thoughts, then you should have access to a professional if at all possible as medication or more in-depth therapy may be necessary.
2. You don’t suffer from full mania, only hypomania. If your risk taking is out of control or you stand to injure yourself or others, then you’re more likely to need professional help. This doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements to yourself if you have full mania, just that I would highly suggest you keep in close contact with a professional in case you need it.
3. You don’t have psychotic episodes like seeing people or objects or hearing sounds that are not there. Although techniques like mindfulness can help with accepting psychotic experiences, you will probably need to be under professional care while these persist.
4. You are very serious about trying everything you possibly can to improve your condition. You are open minded and ready to keep learning and reading everything you can get your hands on. You are prepared to fully try out the techniques you have learned about.
5. You are prepared to work very hard at sorting out your condition, this means constant work at physical exercise, mindfulness, brain changing activities (like CBT, ACT, DBT etc), sticking to your routines, making changes to your diet and making other changes and sacrifices.
6. You are willing to accept that it won’t always go smoothly and you will probably still have some ups, downs and off moods, although they should eventually occur less often and become less severe with practice.
7. You have a backup plan in case you do feel suicidal, manic or otherwise out of control. Write down the phone numbers for suicide hotlines in your area and keep a number for your regular doctor, mental health professional or hospital to hand in case you feel mania or depression getting out of hand. Give these to your spouse, friend or carer also so they can assist if you are not able to help yourself.
Overall I would say yes, bipolar self-help is possible for many people. Even if you do have more serious symptoms there is no reason that you cannot carry out all that we suggest on this site in addition to accepting professional assistance. You may need more personalized care in terms of medication, talking therapy and other support depending on your particular behaviours, causes and history.
I support taking full control of your bipolar condition if you are in the right frame of mind to do so. It will certainly help on many levels and will definitely lead to an overall improvement in your condition.