(Seattle, WA, USA)
My Dad is bipolar (I am as well) and over the past couple of years he seems to have gotten a lot worse. His moods swings are much more extreme and disruptive. He refuses treatment, claiming that bipolar is "who he is" and that being bipolar is not an illness. I have heard that untreated bipolar gets continually worse and worse, and I am really scared for him. Is this true? Is there anything I can do for him?
This is always a very difficult situation with a loved one who is not taking care of themselves. The fact is, long-term evidence shows that in the long run, psychiatric medication does NOT improve the quality of life or functional level of a person with Bipolar Disorder (despite what the psychiatric industry insists), but short-term crises - like a severe manic episode - can be suppressed with medication and this often proves to be necessary - especially as there are rarely any realistic alternatives to respond to a psychiatric crisis.
But with or without medication, it is important to take responsibility and take measures to keep yourself emotional balanced. You can't force a person in denial to do this.
Yes, the usual understanding is that bipolar episodes can get worse over time without treatment. This is based on the idea that each time a manic episode occurs there is an impact on the brain which predisposes you to more mania. But the literature also shows that certain factors such as antidepressant medications can actually de-stabilize the brain and often create far worse, chronic mood cycling in a person who is predisposed to bipolar symptoms.
At the very least a person like your dad should be seeing a therapist. Any stress can trigger bipolar symptoms and having good methods of stress relief - therapy, exercise, yoga,meditation, proper diet, etc - is very important to the overall stability.
I find that those most resistant to treatment for their bipolar condition are usually opposed to medication (and not without good reason). But they usually don't think there are any other alternatives out there, so they don't even look.
You might want to share this info with him, and also suggest he look at the info for EmPower Plus at www.truehope.com as a natural supplement that really works for many people.
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist
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