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The Nine Steps to Managing Your Illness


Click on each item below for the full description.

1. Take charge of your life.

2. Find a good psychiatrist.

3. Take the right medication.

4. Educate yourself about your illness.

5. Learn to prevent episodes.

6. Get "talk therapy" if needed.

7. Get involved with work or other meaningful activities.

8. Join a support group.

9. Reach out.


1. TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE. Manage your illness; adopt and maintain a positive belief system; allow time for love, wonderment and serenity; don't do it alone; and forgive yourself for past mistakes. Steps 2 through 9 which follow provide the basis for Managing Your Illness. Put as many of these positive steps as possible to work for you each day. New Directions meetings will help to focus on the skills that you require to take charge of your life.

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2. FIND A GOOD PSYCHIATRIST. Find the ver best psychiatrist you can to work with you. Don't settle for anyone less. Your choice of psychiatrist is one of the most important decisions you will make in the management of your illness. Check with group members or your family doctor for a referral. Referrals are preferable to picking someone out of the phone book.

Choose someone you initially like and feel comfortable, someone who treats you with respect and is comfortable answering your questions.

Your psychiatrist should be an expert in prescribing medication. He or she should be up to date on the latest medical developments. In additions, s/he should regularly schedule you for necessary bloodwork if you're on medications like Lithium or Tegretol.

It's important to have a good psychiatrist NOW, while you're well, instead of waiting until you're in the middle of a crisis.

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3. TAKE THE RIGHT MEDICATION. Once you've found a doctor to put your trust in, the two of you can work on getting just the right medication(s) - if necessary - to keep you healthy. Sometimes it takes patience and diligent trial and error to hit upon the right combination of medications for you. Remember that the medical arsenal has greatly expanded over the years and chances are extremely good that you can be helped.

Take an active part in learning about your medication. Ask question: What exactly is the medication supposed to do? What category does it fall under? Antidepressant? Anti-anxiety? Anti-psychotic? How soon will it work? What side effects might you expect? How long should you stay on a medication before you and your doctor can conclude it doesn't help you? Are there other meds you can try instead?

While the doctor is the undisputed expert, it's in your best interest to be an informed consumer. (See our Information Guide "What You Need to Know about Psychiatric Medications.")

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4. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR ILLNESS. Shed light on the facts about depression and bipolar disorder. Don't rely on hearsay reports, many or which contain half truths or distorted myths. Find out the truth. The more you know about your illness, the less intiimidated and the more in charge you will feel.

Knowledge is power. Many feelings of helplessness are reduced as people take bold steps to gain knowledge and learn the "good news" - that highly effective treatments are available, that medical progress has been made in the past years and continues to be made, and that so many people share your illness and you are not alone.

Information on mood disorders is available from numerous sources: the public library, the Internet, bookstores, group members, your psychiatrist and/or psychotherapist, videos, lectures at public hospitals and New Directions' library. See our list of Audio and Video Tapes and Information Guides.

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5. LEARN TO PREVENT EPISODES. Both depression and mania can often be caught in ther earliest stages and, with appropriate treatment, brought under early control.

Learn what your early warning signs are. Then take action to combat them. Call your doctor when your earliest symptoms appear. S/he can then plan a strategy which hopefully can nip the illness in the bud. This can range from using medication to having therapy sessions to making changes in your personal life to avoid stress.

The ability to take action when we feel an episode coming on uts us in a powerful position to prevent a full-blown episode. (See our Information Guide "Catching a Manic Episode Before It Gets Started & How to Stop a Hypomanic Episode.)

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6. GET "TALK THERAPY" IF NEEDED. In addition to medication, many people benefit greatly from one-on-one therapy.

While medication is invaluable in alleviating symptoms of depression or mania or in stabilizing the mood, some people are still left with a residue of unresolved personal issues that may interfere with living well. These issues may include relationships with others, job success, personal growth and fulfillment, negative thinking, etc. One especially common problem is the lack of self-esteem people feel after having been diagnosed with a mood disorder, or after suffering a major episode of the illness.

In this and other cases, therapy with a skill psychotherapist can prove of tremendous value. In therapy, we gain an understanding of our inner selves: our strengths, our conflicts, our patterns of behavior. Through this understanding comes the ability to change and to grow.

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7. GET INVOLVED WITH WORK OR OTHER MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES. Staying healthy begins with having something meaningful to do each day. People who work at jobs they enjoy feel productive, needed and important. They feel a sense of belonging, a part of society. The pride they feel in their jobs is reflected in their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Work comes in many varieties. Some people find satisfaction in a relatively low-stress job, while others enjoy the challenge of having lots of responsibility. What matters is that your job fits your emotional needs - which may change from time to time - and that your job brings you that vital sense of satisfaction.

Not everyone is able to work. Fortunately there are several options to keep people stimulated and to take them out of their homes. Volunteer work offers a cornucopia of opportunities in almost every field imaginable. Volunteer work can be a prelude to entering the work force or it can be a valuable end in itself.

Another option is the "Day Program," also called "Partial Hospitalization Program." Like volunteer work, it may be temporary or on a more permanent basis. Day programs offer structured days of activities, therapy groups and fellowship with others.

But no matter what you choose to do each day, staying healthy means getting out into the world and making a contribution.

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8. JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP. Support groups are unique. They offer an all-important sense of validation, a feeling that "I'm not alone, I'm not the only person with this condition, I'm in good company."

Groups offer role modeling, practical information on how to cope, education on the illness and medication, doctor referrals, friendship and camaraderie, and a safe place to unburden yourself about things you may not be able to share anywhere else.

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9. REACH OUT. There is a magic in being able to help someone else. Put your unique experiences to work. You are in a privileged position to help out others who share your same illness...to lend an understanding ear or to offer a message of hope.

No one can understand like someone who's been through it. Your experiences can make a difference in someone else's life.

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