Putting People in the Bipolar Driver’s Seat

Apr 26, 2013

Bipolar disorder affects more than 10 million Americans. More than one-half of all cases begin between the ages 15 to 25. The condition includes high and low mood swings between mania and depression. Energy levels and the ability to think clearly become unstable. Symptoms can lead to high-risk behavior or damage personal, school, work or financial relationships.

Bipolar disorder can be successfully treated, but because there is no cure, treatment must be continuous. People living with the illness are responsible for management of their condition, but success depends on a partnership with a psychiatrist or other providers.

Charles Bowden, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at San Antonio, is one of the nation’s leading medical experts on bipolar. In 2006, he received NAMI’s prestigious Scientific Research Award.  Bowden will present a session on bipolar disorder at the upcoming NAMI National Convention in San Antonio this June with other UT participants, including professors Jodi Gonzalez Arnold, Ph.D. and Vivek Singh, M.D.

Bowden’s research has helped define the symptoms and biology of bipolar disorder, and he has contributed major new understandings about the effectiveness of mood-stabilizing drugs. 

The understanding and science of bipolar disorder continues to evolve and understanding the latest treatments, from a research perspective and a practical intervention perspective, is important. “If we remain limited to the knowledge we had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, we will be simply inadequately addressing the needs of [individuals] with this common, severe disease,” said Bowden in an interview with the American Psychiatric Association at a recent APA Conference.

The results of  Bowden’s research has helped inform the current understanding of combining treatments as potentially preferable to “monotherapy” medication treatments in the treatment plans of some with bipolar disorder.  For example, there is renewed insight into understanding the significant role of depression, not just mania, in both bipolar I and II disorders. A renewed understanding that bipolar disorder can be stabilized from either the manic symptom side or the depressive symptom side has been an additional revelation from Bowden’s work.

Bowden’s research has long sought to put people living with bipolar disorder in the driver’s seat, along with family members, in managing the condition. His approach emphasizes living well and anticipating both positive and negative developments that affect mood stability. Besides medication, self-awareness and educational counseling is part of the treatment strategy—involving a focus on lifestyle factors such as sleep time, exercise, keeping stress manageable, and avoiding or coping with major destabilizing life experiences.

At the NAMI National Convention, June 27 to 30, partnership will be the focus of Bowden’s session, "Co-Managing Recovery and Bipolar: Establishing Solid Relationships with Your Provider." The session will be held Sat., June 29 at 9:15 a.m.

The night before, a special session, "I’m Not Sick; I Don’t Need Help: Understanding Anognosia," led by Dr. Xavier Amador, will be held about how a mental illness such as bipolar disorder can lead to lack of insight—such that a person to fail to recognize that they are sick. The topic has implications for Bowden’s partnership approach, which depends on self-awareness for either self- or co-management. Together, the two sessions raise important perspectives for an individual’s journey to recovery.


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