DBSA California

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

You've Just Been Diagnosed...

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“I've always had mood swings. I used to throw huge tantrums when I was a kid. As I got older, the highs got higher and the lows got lower. I lost several jobs and ruined a whole bunch of relationships. Finally, I decided nothing could be worse than living like I was, and I went to get some help.”

“It was like my brain played a cruel joke on me. My energy and creativity were the things I relied on and when I became depressed they were completely gone, as was most of my will to live. There was no way I could 'snap out of it.' The depression was stronger than I was that's the nature of the illness. I'm so grateful that my treatment has helped me get back to living my life.”

“I thought medication was going to make me weird or an addict. But after a few months, I wasn't really aware I was taking it. There was no 'high,' but I now feel a lot less depressed. As long as I keep taking my pill every morning, I'm able to cope with life. Things that used to make me cry and want to go hide, I'm able to deal with now.”  

What Now?
If you've just been diagnosed with a mood disorder, you are not alone. Mood disorders affect more than 22 million Americans. They are treatable, and you are not weak, flawed, or crazy. One of the best things you can do to help yourself in your recovery is learn all you can about your illness.  

What's happening to me?
Mood disorders are physical illnesses that affect the brain. Their exact cause is not known, but it is known that an imbalance in brain chemicals plays a role. These illnesses also have a genetic component, meaning they can run in families. They are not your fault, and they are nothing to be ashamed of. Having a mood disorder does not mean you can't lead a normal life. 

Think of your mood disorder the same way you think of illnesses such as asthma or diabetes. No one would ever ask someone else to think positive in response to the low blood sugar of diabetes or breathing trouble of asthma, and no one would think twice about getting the necessary treatment for these illnesses. 

Do I need to see more than one health care provider?
Sometimes you will need to see one health care provider for psychotherapy or talk therapy (this may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, social worker or other professional) and a medical doctor to prescribe medication (this may be your primary care doctor or a psychiatrist). If you have more than one person treating you, let them know how they can reach one another. It is best for all of you to work together to find the right treatment plan for you. 

What are the benefits of psychotherapy?
You may need extra help coping with unhealthy relationships or harmful lifestyle choices that contribute to your illness. Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can be very helpful for this. Choose a therapist with whom you feel comfortable, and whose judgment you trust. The goal of therapy is for you to develop skills and behaviors that will help you cope with difficult situations and help you to become aware of, and possibly prevent, episodes of depression or mania. 

Do I need to take medication? 
The decision to take medication is entirely up to you and your doctor. Some people worry that medication will change their personality or be addictive neither of these beliefs is true. Medications are prescribed to keep your moods stable and keep you from having episodes of depression or mania that would interfere with your life. 

What if my medication doesn’t work? 
No two people will respond the same way to the same medication. Sometimes you and your doctor will need to try several different medications or a combination of medications in order to provide the improvement you need. Finding the right treatment plan can take time. Don’t lose hope! 

It may also take some time for you to adjust to your medication. Most medications take two to six weeks before a person feels their full effect. So, though it may be difficult, it’s important to be patient and wait for a medication to take effect. Many of the medications that affect the brain may also affect other systems of the body, and cause side effects such as dry mouth, constipation, sleepiness, blurred vision, weight gain, weight loss, dizziness or sexual dysfunction. Some side effects go away within days or weeks, while others can be long-term. 

Don’t be discouraged by side effects; there are ways to reduce or eliminate them. Changing the time you take your medication can help with sleepiness or sleeplessness, and taking it with food can help with nausea.  

Sometimes another medication can be prescribed to block an unwanted side effect, or your dosage can be adjusted to reduce the side effect. Other times your medication can be changed. 

Tell your doctor about any side effects you are having. The decision to change or add medication must be made by you and your doctor together. Never stop taking your medication or change your dosage without first talking to your doctor. Tell your doctor before you begin taking any additional medication, including over the- counter medications or natural/herbal supplements.

If side effects cause you to become very ill... (with symptoms such as fever, sore throat, rash, yellowing of your skin, pain in your abdomen or any other area, breathing or heart problems, or other severe changes that concern you), contact your doctor or a hospital emergency room right away.