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What Happens When Someone Is Bipolar And They Don't Take Their Meds?

Published: September 06, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,
what exactly happens when someone is bipolar and they dont take their medication? will the symptoms go away on their own, and how long do they last?
Signed: What Happens When Someone Is Bipolar And They Don't Take Their Meds?

Dear What Happens When Someone Is Bipolar And They Don't Take Their Meds?,


Bipolar disorder is a recurrent disease, which means that people living with the illness will experience manic and depressive episodes throughout their lives. Between episodes many people will find that they are free of symptoms – but that does not mean the illness has gone away. Bipolar disorder has no cure and is not something that simply disappears on its own. It is very important that a person with bipolar disorder follows his/her treatment plan (which is often a combination of medication and psychotherapy) continuously. If medication is recommended, but a person is not taking his/her medication as prescribed, the following can occur:


  • Future manic and depressive episodes will be harder to prevent.
  • The disease can worsen with time without consistent treatment, meaning that the intensity and frequency of manic and depressive episodes will continue to increase over a person’s lifetime.
  • Most likely it will be harder to function consistently in various areas of your life, such as school, work, family and peer relationships, or participation in extra-curricular activities without continued treatment.


If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, medication has been recommended for you, but you are feeling hesitant about taking it – please discuss this with the psychiatrist prescribing your medication. If you are not meeting a therapist, TeenHealthFX suggests that you do this so that you can get education about the disease and learn how treatment can be most effective for you, so that you can discuss any feelings you have about having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and in order to get encouragement and support with all you are dealing with.


If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.

Many people with bipolar disorder benefit from joining support groups such as those sponsored by the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA), the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and the National Mental Health Association (NMHA). Families and friends can also benefit from support groups offered by these organizations.



To learn more about bipolar disorder, including symptoms, treatment, and how family members and friends can be indirectly affected, please read on:


What Is Bipolar Disorder?


For our readers who may not know, bipolar disorder (often referred to in the past as manic-depressive) is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Everyone can go through ups and downs, however, with bipolar these ups and downs are quite severe and can result in problematic relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. Bipolar typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, however, it can have it’s onset during childhood. Bipolar disorder is a treatable condition, and people with this illness can definitely lead full and productive lives. But it is important to look at bipolar disorder as a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life – just like a person with diabetes or heart disease will have to manage their conditions throughout their lives.


The dramatic mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, these periods of highs and lows, are called episodes of mania and depression. A person can go from feeling overly high and irritable, to feeling sad and hopeless – and there can be periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior can go along with these changes in mood as well.


Symptoms of Manic and Depressive Episodes:


Symptoms of a manic episode include:


  • Increased energy, activity or restlessness
  • Excessively high, overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
  • Distractibility, can’t concentrate well
  • Little sleep is needed
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Poor judgment
  • Spending sprees
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Increased sex drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong 

A person is considered to be having a manic episode if an elevated mood is present along with three or more of the other symptoms listed above, nearly every day, for one week or longer. If the mood is irritable, then four additional symptoms must be present for this amount of time.


Symptoms associated with a depressive episode:


  • Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or being slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Sleeping too much or difficulty sleeping
  • Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
  • Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more of these symptoms last for most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of two weeks or longer.



What Is The Course of Bipolar Disorder?


People diagnosed with bipolar disorder tend to experience episodes of mania and depression throughout their lives. Between episodes, most people are free of symptoms, but there are people who will experience some residual symptoms.


People will bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives when the illness is effectively treated. However, when bipolar disorder goes untreated, the natural course of the disorder tends to worsen. Manic and depressive episodes often become more frequent and more severe without treatment.



Treating Bipolar Disorder:


There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but the treatment options available today can be significantly helpful for most people living with the disorder. The important thing to remember is that since bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventative treatment is strongly recommended. A combination of medication and psychosocial treatment tends to be the most effective treatment, and the disorder will be much better controlled if the treatment is continuous rather than on and off.


If a person is seeking treatment for bipolar disorder, it is recommended that he/she meet with a psychiatrist to be evaluated for psychotropic medications. Medications for this illness are often referred to as “mood stabilizers.” It is also suggested that a person with bipolar meet with a therapist (licensed social worker, psychologist, or licensed professional counselor) for individual, family, and/or group therapy. “Talk” therapy can be very helpful in providing support, education, and guidance for individuals dealing with the disease and for their families. Therapy can help to increase mood stability, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and improved functioning in various areas.


Charting mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events can be very helpful in managing bipolar. It can help individuals with the disease and their families better understand how the illness particularly affects them, and it can help the treating doctors to better track and treat the illness.



Friends and Family Members of the Bipolar Patient


Very often people living with bipolar disorder require help to go and get the treatment they need. Many people with this illness do not realize how impaired they are, may blame their problems on things other than the illness, or might even find secondary gains from the mania they experience – so they do not seek out help. Encouragement from family, friends, and even family physicians is often important to help people seek out the treatment they need. This may mean taking people to their appointments for initial evaluations and providing ongoing support throughout treatment. It may mean hospitalizing a person (maybe even against their will) if they are in a manic or depressive episode and a threat to themselves of others.


Like other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can be hard on spouses, family members, friends, employers, and teachers. It is recommended that family members and friends seek out sources where they can receive education about the disease and support for how this illness indirectly affects them.

Signed: TeenHealthFX