–SAMSHA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Mental Health Services) (http://www.samhsa.gov/)
Next Steps in Recovery
Depression and bipolar disorder are mood disorders—real physical illnesses that affect a person’s moods, thoughts, body, energy, and emotions. Both illnesses, especially bipolar disorder, tend to follow a cyclical course, meaning they have ups and downs.
Treatment for these illnesses can also have ups and downs. As much as we may want it to, wellness often does not happen overnight. It is normal to wish you could feel better faster or to worry that you will never feel better. However, know that you can feel better, and that ultimately you are in charge of your recovery. There are many things you can do to help yourself.
Relief of symptoms is only the first step in treating depression or bipolar disorder. Wellness, or recovery, is a return to a life that you care about. Recovery happens when your illness stops getting in the way of your life. You decide what recovery means to you.
You have the right to recover according to your needs and goals. Talk to your health care provider (HCP) about what you need from treatment to reach your recovery. Your HCP can provide the treatment(s) and/or medication(s) that work best for you. Along the way, you have a right to ask questions about the treatments you are getting and choose the treatments you want.
It can also be helpful to work with a therapist, family member, friend, or peer supporters to help define your recovery. Your definition of a meaningful life may change over time.
At times, depression and bipolar disorder might make it seem difficult to set a goal for yourself. It might feel almost impossible to think about the things that you hope for or care about. But goal setting is an important part of wellness, no matter where you are on your path to recovery. Work on what you can when you can.
Identifying life goals is the heart of the recovery process. When we see a future for ourselves, we begin to become motivated to do all we can to reach that future. Goals can be big or small, depending on where you are in your recovery journey.
- What motivates me?
- What interests me?
- What would I do more if I could?
- What do I want?
- What do I care about, or what did I care about before my illness?
- Where do I want my life to go?
- What brings me joy?
- What are my dreams and hopes?
It can help to start small and work up to larger goals. You might want to begin by setting one small goal for yourself at the beginning of each day. As you move forward with your recovery, look at the different areas of your life and think about your short and long term goals.
Possible Short Term Goals
- Be out of bed by xx:00 am.
- Finish one household chore.
- Call a DBSA support group.
Possible Long Term Goals
- Get training or experience for a job.
- Change a living situation, e.g., find an apartment.
- Build a relationship with a friend or family member.
Remember to break your goals down into small steps at first. A goal such as “move to a new city” can be difficult to visualize and plan all at once. Ask yourself what you need to do first. What can you do now that will help you eventually reach this goal? Not only will this help move you closer to your goal, but it will also help give you a positive feeling of accomplishment.
- Creating the Life that You Want: The Ten Steps to Accomplishing a Goal
- Setting Wellness Achievement and Maintenance Goals
What are some things I can do that might help me feel better?
Know the difference between your symptoms and your true self.
Your HCPs can help you separate your true identity from your symptoms by helping you see how your illness affects your behavior. Be open about behaviors you want to change and set goals for making those changes.
Educate your family.
Involve family or friends in treatment when possible. They can help you spot symptoms, track behaviors, and gain perspective. They can also give encouraging feedback and help you make a plan to cope with any future crises.
Work on healthy lifestyle choices.
Recovery is also about a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular sleep, healthy eating, and the avoidance of alcohol, drugs, and risky behavior.
Find the treatment that works for you.
Talk to your HCP about your medications’ effects on you, especially the side effects that bother you. Remember to chart these effects so that you can discuss them fully with your HCP. You might need to take a lower dosage, a higher dosage, or a different medication. You might need to switch your medication time from morning to evening or take medication on a full stomach. There are many options for you and your HCP to try. Side effects can be reduced or eliminated. It is very important to talk to your HCP before you make any changes to your medication or schedule.
Talk with your HCP.
Always talk with your HCP first if you feel like changing your dosage or stopping your medication. Explain what you want to change and why you think it will help you.
Treatments for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Effective treatments can help you:
- reach your goals.
- build on the strengths you have and the things you can do.
- develop a person-centered wellness plan.
- live your life without the interference of symptoms.
Treatments can include some or all of these elements: therapy, medications, peer support, and overall lifestyle changes.
Medications for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Your HCP might prescribe one or more medications to treat your symptoms. These may include the following:
- Mood stabilizers: These medications help balance your highs and lows. Some mood stabilizer medications are called anticonvulsants, because they are also used to treat epilepsy.
- Antidepressants: These medications help lift the symptoms of depression. There are several different classes (types) of antidepressants.
- Antipsychotics: These medications are primarily used to treat symptoms of mania. Even if you are not hallucinating or having delusions, these medications can help slow racing thoughts to a manageable speed.
There are many types of talk therapy that can help you address issues in your life and learn new ways to cope with your illness. Goal setting is an important part of talk therapy.
Talk therapy can also help you to:
- understand your illness.
- overcome fears or insecurities.
- cope with stress.
- make sense of past traumatic experiences.
- separate your true personality from the mood swings caused by your illness.
- identify triggers that may worsen your symptoms.
- improve relationships with family and friends.
- establish a stable, dependable routine.
- develop a plan for coping with crises.
- understand why things bother you and what you can do about them.
- end destructive habits such as drinking, using drugs, overspending, or risky sex.
- address symptoms like changes in eating or sleeping habits, anger, anxiety, irritability, or unpleasant feelings.
Support from people who understand is another important part of recovery. There are many ways to get this support. DBSA offers support groups, online groups, and wellness tips from peers in the DBSA Facing Us Clubhouse.
A healthy lifestyle is always important. Even if symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder make things like physical activity, healthy eating, or regular sleep difficult, you can improve your moods by improving your health. Take advantage of the good days you have. On these days, do something healthy for yourself. It might be as simple as taking a short walk, eating a fresh vegetable or fruit, or writing in a journal. A talk about lifestyle changes should be a part of your goal setting with your HCPs.
You have the power to change.You are the most important part of your wellness plan. Your treatment plan will be unique to you. It will follow some basic principles and paths, but you and your HCPs can adapt it to fit you.