Some of the symptoms can have serious consequences.
Living with any mental illness can really take a toll on your quality of life. Without treatment, people may suffer from crippling symptoms that affect their families, relationships, and careers. Luckily, treatment can usually help people get control of their lives and prevent serious problems. This is especially true when it comes to treating bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder causes symptoms that can threaten people’s health, safety, and quality of life. In some cases, it can even threaten their lives. In the long term, untreated bipolar disorder can also have lasting effects on overall brain function and coping.
The Importance of Treating Bipolar Disorder
Manic episodes can cause reckless behavior, including:
- Dangerous driving, such as speeding and drunk-driving
- Impulsive and excessive spending
- Risky sex
These can lead to legal battles, financial trouble, injuries, broken relationships, lost jobs, and even death—to the individual or to others. These consequences could increase stress and worsen mental health. The risks are so high that doctors generally recommend quick hospitalization for people having a manic episode.
To prevent manic episodes, people with bipolar disorder often get different treatment than people with depression. That is because standard antidepressants can sometimes increase the risk of manic episodes. Instead, treating bipolar disorder often includes mood-stabilizing medicines.
Even if someone rarely has manic episodes, untreated bipolar disorder can still be devastating. Depression increases the risk of:
- Self-harm or destructive behaviors
- Substance misuse (including alcohol use disorder)
- Suicidal ideation
Suicide rates are higher among people with bipolar disorder compared to the general population. It is important to know that suicide is generally preventable. Prevention can include having a good support system, but also treating underlying conditions.
Treating bipolar disorder can help prevent self-harm and suicidal ideation by providing:
- “Antimanic” medications that treat manic episodes. This helps prevent the dangerous behavior that can have serious consequences and increase stress
- Mood-stabilizing medicines that reduce the severity of depressive symptoms and prevent manic episodes
- Psychotherapy that helps teach healthy ways to cope with challenging and negative thoughts and behaviors
- A professional care team and support system
If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
Marc Lener, MD, is a psychiatrist and founder of the Singula Institute in New York City