My name is Jim Phelps. Im a psychiatrist (thats an M.D. doctor, who can prescribe medications for mental illness, as well as do psychotherapy). I treat severe brain disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and "treatment resistant depression". Most people I see with depression have already had 3 different antidepressants and often at least one good psychotherapist, and theyre still struggling. So over the years Ive focused on how to treat that group of people. Not all of them have "bipolar disorder", but that diagnosis is the most treatable reason to still be struggling after all this treatment.
So after telling the things you'll find on this site to many patients, I thought Id just write them down. It has been an easy way to make this story available to my patients. You're welcome to it. Ive picked the stuff that most people want to know, and written it the way I tell it out loud. Hopefully by reading here youll learn enough to decide -- for yourself -- whether any of this really applies to you.
You might wonder: "whats in it for Dr. Phelps?" Good question, one you should ask of any website like this. Here's the answer. I have asked companies that make the medications used to treat Bipolar II to support this site (you can read which ones if you like, here). This was my idea, not theirs. They have paid for some of the time it took to put this site together, as well as a companion site for your doctor (more on that later); and to keep the sites up to date. Otherwise, thats it: no other "paybacks" to me or to the company.
Dont believe what you read here. Really. Be as skeptical as you want. Bipolar disorder is not a disease you want to have, thats for sure. I really hope youll look at some of the many references in here. When you see a name hanging like thisPhelps, click it: most have a little note telling you where the information referred to actually came from; in some cases youll get the reference itself. These references are what you should listen to. They are written by national experts.
Dont take it from me: read, ask questions, wonder out loud. This illness is extremely tricky, both in diagnosis and treatment. Eventually I hope youll know enough to participate very actively in each decision about your care.
What you can do is evaluate the "evidence". Most of the national experts whose opinion I refer to here have had to meet a tough standard of evidence for their research. You should trust them over someone who has not had to test their theory. If you know what a randomized clinical trial is, and why that is the best thing to trust, skip to the next section.
That means that any "treatment" you are offered ought to work better than a placebo. And the only way to know that is to test them, one against the other. With the same type of patients in each group. Treated exactly the same way. With a tough, easily measured definition of "better" agreed upon in advance. Thats a randomized trial. If you have a choice of a treatment that has been shown effective this way, versus one that has not well, heres how my teacher put it: "look, there are a lot of treatments out there; why dont you start with the ones that have some evidence that they work?"
This site is not intended to substitute for evaluation by a mental health specialist. If you have a suspicion about this diagnosis and do not have access to a psychiatrist (an M.D. doctor, who can prescribe medication), often a good local therapist (Ph.D., MSW, or LCSW) can be helpful with a diagnostic evaluation. Even if you do have "bipolar disorder", the therapist may be able to help a lot with coping, adjusting, and handling your stresses (caused by the illness, or by something else!).
Once you are certain about the diagnosis, you can approach your primary care doctor about treatment, if it is impossible for you to get to a psychiatrist. However, understand that primary care doctors are not well trained (with some wonderful exceptions) in handling complicated mood problems.
This site has a "companion" site for primary care doctors. If you simply cannot find, afford, or get to a psychiatrist who is experienced in bipolar disorders, you will find a letter here you can take to your doctor. It will explain that you have begun to wonder about bipolar disorder as an explanation for your symptoms, and introduce her or him to my site for doctors.
Please understand that many doctors will not wish to be "led" into territory in which they do not feel comfortable. They may be making a wise judgement, focusing on areas of medicine in which they can be effective, and leaving other areas to specialists. Thats practicing good medicine, ok? Its their choice, its a very legitimate choice, and it may well be the best thing for you, if they chose to say "no" to your requests to be evaluated or treated by them for "bipolar disorder". Here's a short essay on How to Talk to Doctors if you need some help with that step.
This site is basically a guide to the medical literature on bipolar variations. Most important concepts will be referenced: that means I am referring you to the source of the information. In most cases you can click your way right to the source document from my reference. When you find a statement without a reference, you may assume that is my view or opinion. Where there is strong disagreement among experts, I will try to point that out. If I offer an opinion in an area of controversy, I will try to make it clear that it is my opinion.
Opinions in medicine are not worth much. It is too easy to be led by ones own experience, which may not be representative of the "big picture" of an illness or treatment. Several of my colleagues believe Im "too far out", finding bipolar disorder lurking behind every rock and tree. So you should interpret my opinions with caution. I could be completely wrong. As I tell my patients, "the proof is in the pudding". The "right" approach is ultimately defined by "what works". If you get better, and stay better, you were right about something! Thats what matters. The "label" was only supposed to help guide treatment, and show what other people you might be like, so that their experience could be a guide for you. If you are better, you dont much need any particular label anymore!
However, you must guard against "false hope". If you come to believe you might have "Bipolar II", and get your hopes up about a new potential "treatment", you could be very disappointed if the treatment doesnt "work". In that case my information here could have hurt you. So, you will be safer if you approach everything you read skeptically. Wait for the treatment to be effective before you really believe the "diagnosis", ok?
Finally, from a legal point of view, please understand that I am offering this because I hope it will help people, but I am only stating my perspective. Any actions you pursue based on this site are your responsibility, based on your learning.
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