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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Get Educated

Arming yourself with all the knowledge about the condition can help you become more aware of warning signs, symptoms, and any potential side effects of the meds to look for, Bressler says.

“Families shouldn’t wait for a crisis before intervening; you don’t want symptoms to be constantly toggled like a switch—going from the extremes of light to dark. You want to carefully observe the person, so symptoms are more like a dimmer and you are able to intervene before they become pitch black.”

Updated: Jan 4, 2021
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