Marked by major moods that swing from extreme highs to the lowest of lows, finding a balance is a matter of medication. In fact, medication is key to treating this mental disorder. “Bipolar is a life-long condition,” says Randy Bressler, PsyD, visiting clinical supervisor, Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, with practices in Milburn and Randolph New Jersey. “Due to their wiring and genetic makeup, patients have difficulty producing the chemicals needed to regulate mood and emotion, which is why medication is so important.”

But when that person refuses to take their meds, the effects can be like a superstorm destroying everything in its path. “Without medication, there could be severe consequences related to poor decision making, at-risk behaviors, sleeplessness, spending sprees, social withdrawal, lack of personal hygiene, trouble meeting professional or school obligations, psychosis, or worse case, suicide,” Bressler says.

While non-compliance can be caused by a number of factors, from side effects to forgetfulness, it can also be triggered—and the holidays, even more so in the midst of a pandemic, are a particularly vulnerable time, Bressler says. “Those with bipolar and other mental illnesses may feel isolated—or so joyful they might think they don’t need to take their meds at all. And if there’s a history of addiction, such as alcohol, they may turn to drinking as a coping mechanism,” he says. All the more reason why a support system is key. If your friend or family member becomes non-compliant, don’t panic. Here’s, how to handle the situation like a pro.

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Be Supportive

Just listening to your loved one can go a long way—and reveal any roadblocks they might be experiencing. Studies show social support can help prevent relapse, encourage better treatment adherence, and improve the person’s functioning overall. “Listening and empathizing can give you a better understanding as to what factors might be leading to their noncompliance–perhaps they aren’t tolerating the side effects from the medication, think their meds aren’t working, are forgetting to take their meds, or have agnosia, a feeling that they don’t have an illness at all,” Bressler says.

“Some of these factors, such as side effects, may be easily managed by making simple tweaks to current dosages or by trying alternate medications.” Or, if it’s a cost issue, there are platforms such as RX assist or GoodRx, which can help find lower cost meds, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which provides resources for assistance with payment.


Updated: Mar 8, 2021
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