Asked by Brad, Seattle, Washington
I have suffered from bipolar depression for five years. I am taking medication and worked with a specialist for three years. My question is, can one ever grow out of or heal from this affliction?
Mental Health Expert
Dr. Charles Raison
Emory University Medical School
One of the strange things about mental health questions is that the answer is almost yes. Can one recover from bipolar disorder? Yes. But this is very different from what is perhaps a more important question which is: How likely is it that bipolar disorder will completely go away once a person has it? Here the evidence is a good deal more sobering. On average, bipolar disorder is like most other modern medical illnesses, meaning that it doesn't tend to go completely away even with treatment.
Have you ever thought about this before? If not, take a moment to consider this. Pick any major modern disease -- I'll give you a list: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV, dementia, autoimmune disorders. For most of these conditions, doctors can control symptoms but cannot eradicate the underlying disease process. The exception is cancer, but even with cancer no one would say that once someone has had a serious cancer that they are the same person with the same life expectancy as someone who has never had cancer -- at least not until a number of years of completely disease-free survival had passed.
For reasons too complicated to explain here, mood disorders like bipolar disorder share many of the same disease pathways as other modern illnesses, and because of this clinicians are frequently able to manage the condition very well but seldom cure. This is one of the reasons that major depression and bipolar disorder are such painful and devastating conditions and why it is so important to treat them aggressively.
Because it is not possible to know in advance who will recover from bipolar disorder and who will be part of the larger group of people who will struggle with the illness across their lifetimes, the smartest course of action is to treat the condition as effectively as possible. The goal should always be to have as few depressive or manic episodes as possible, because each episode increases the likelihood of having more episodes in the future. Plus, each episode appears to be bad for the brain and to increase the risk of getting other medical illnesses. Preventing depressive or manic episodes is usually best achieved by staying consistently on medications -- the specific medications are a matter for each patient and his or her doctor. It is also important to commit to leading a balanced and healthy, with manageable levels of stress, regular sleep and wake times, avoidance of drug and alcohol abuse and a healthy diet. In this last regard, a diet high in a nutrient called omega-3 fatty acid may be especially helpful in keeping moods stable.
So what is the take-home point? It is this: The best way to recover from bipolar order is to treat it as thoroughly and for as long a time as possible, which is exactly the best way to live an optimal life even if the condition never fully goes away.
CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.
The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.