When people have a virus or an infection, they can be treated with antibiotics and other medication that will allow them to recover. But when people have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, recovery takes on an entirely different meaning. Bipolar (BD) is another mental health challenge that clinicians and clients do not often associate with the word recovery. However, being in a state of recovery means different things to different people. Psychologists and psychiatrists treating individuals with bipolar may see them as recovered when their symptoms are in remission and they are responding well to medication and therapy. But the clients may not see themselves as recovered if they experience adverse side effects from the medication and are still unable to function well.
Clinicians can help individuals with bipolar by learning what recovery means to them. To better understand what recovery means from a client’s perspective, Erin Michalak, associate professor in the Mood Disorders Centre in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of British Columbia, recently interviewed 13 participants who reported having either bipolar I or bipolar II. She found that when asked about measuring recovery, the most common answer from the participants was gauging quality of life. The participants suggested that clinicians should view recovery from a different perspective, because they believed that full recovery, or being cured, was not an option.
Instead, the participants believed that working towards a better quality of life and striving to effectively manage the symptoms of bipolar would be a more viable goal. They described the “art of managing BD…” as ensuring treatment adherence, getting daily exercise, and allowing family members to lend support when needed. Additionally, the participants said that they had to let go of the idea that they would ever become the person they were before they developed BD. Rather they said it was much more beneficial to focus on moving forward with their new identity. Michalak said that these responses will help those living with and treating people with BD better understand what recovery means to the clients. She added, “Lastly, a collaborative therapeutic relationship is fundamental to enabling individuals to rebuild a sense of self and lower the stigma associated with living with BD.”
Michalak, E. E., Hole, R., Holmes, C., Velyvis, V., Austin, J. (2012). Implications for psychiatric care of the word ‘recovery’ in people with bipolar disorder. Psychiatric Annals, 42.5, 173-178.
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