New measures aimed at helping patients with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, to cope with their illness have been devised by a research team at the University of Edinburgh's Department of Psychiatry.
Results of a two-year study into the benefits of the psychological intervention program, combined with drug therapy, show patients have fewer relapses and days spent in hospital, an improved quality of life, a better social network, and felt more stress-free in daily life.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by severe mood swings, from mania to depression. Individuals can experience periods of increased energy, over-activity, irritability and sometimes delusions during the manic phase, and low mood, reduced concentration, disturbed sleep and ideas of self-harm during the depressed state.
The study, funded by the Manic Depression Fellowship (Scotland), involved around 150 people aged from 16 to 64 years, from Edinburgh and Lothians, who benefited from the psychological intervention package devised by researchers Dr. Matthias Schwannauer and his colleagues.
The intervention format was broken down into four parts: early warning signs program; behavioral techniques; cognitive techniques and interpersonal therapy.
Dr. Schwannauer said, "Recognition of early signs of mood change is the first step in preventing a severe episode. We develop a personalized early warning signs record with each client who then have strategies to deal with the situation. Life-style changes may be an important part of dealing with early symptoms. For example, patients can vary their daily activities and sleep routines, and employ relaxation techniques and stress management strategies.
“Cognitive techniques can also be used to manage either episode of depression or mania. Individuals can do some 'reality checking,' can examine their way of dealing with stressful situations and challenge their perceptions and beliefs. Also, we look at where these thinking styles and beliefs originate from in terms of the individual's developmental history.”
The fourth strand of the package focuses on interpersonal problem areas such as loss, disputes or role changes, when early relationships with parents or carers and early life incidents such as abuse or bullying are investigated in the context of the individual's current illness.
Patients are helped to find strategies, and to build social and support networks, to help them deal with problems of mood change. Treatment is carried out individually or in groups, and complements drug therapy.
[Contact: Dr. Matthias Schwannauer]