First published in Bipolar Life's April 2020 newsletter
Most people living with bipolar disorder understand the importance of medication in the management of their condition. We know that medications are to be taken lifelong, with a few exceptions. We also understand that they are taken in addition to, not as a replacement for, other treatments such as psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle and a good routine; this includes a good sleep pattern, regular exercise, good nutrition and strong social support.
So, what happens if we don’t treat bipolar disorder in the right way, for instance self-treating? The following scenarios could happen :
Therefore, it makes sense for you to work with your doctor to ensure the medications prescribed are right for you. As all medications can cause side effects, it is essential to be open and honest with your prescribing doctor if you are experiencing any problems. It is inadvisable to reduce or stop a medication without consulting with your doctor first.
In this article we are going to look at:
Bipolar disorder is treated with three main classes of medication: mood stabilisers, antipsychotics and antidepressants. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe (usually short term) anti-anxiety and sleep aids–benzodiazepines and Z drugs. In this article we won’t go into much detail how they are used, such as acute treatment versus maintenance, or what is used for mania versus depression. Instead we’ll just concentrate on the side effects aspect to keep the article reasonably short.
MOOD STABILISERS – LITHIUM [1,5]
Around 75% of people of people taking lithium for bipolar disorder get side effects . It is effective for mania, and is gold standard for maintenance therapy, and may help bipolar depression .
Important note on lithium toxicity
This can be caused by various factors such as taking too many tablets, dehydration, or having a sudden drop in kidney function. This can be a dangerous condition and needs urgent medical attention. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, drowsiness, unsteadiness, confusion, agitation, blurred vision, severe tremors, muscle jerks or seizures .
People taking lithium are recommended to have regular blood tests to check lithium levels, kidney and thyroid function .
How to avoid dehydration
To avoid dehydration, it’s important to keep well hydrated especially if exercising, or in hot weather. Try not to have too much caffeine or alcohol as they can dehydrate. Medications such as diuretics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) can also cause lithium levels to rise so care is needed.
We’ll now look at the anticonvulsants which are also used as mood stabilisers.
MOOD STABILISERS – ANTICONVULSANTS [1,6]
Important note on Stevens-Johnson syndrome
This is a rare, serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes. It usually begins with flu-like symptoms (such as fever, fatigue, cough), then a red or purplish blistering rash that spreads over the body. The mouth, eyes, nose and genitals can be affected . You must seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you are having this reaction to a medication.
The first antipsychotics developed, now known as first-generation typical antipsychotics (FGA), were used to treat people with schizophrenia in the 1950s. The second-generation antipsychotics (SGA) came out in the 1980s, and are commonly known as atypical antipsychotics . The SGAs are helpful in reducing mania and in strengthening antidepressant treatment .
The SGAs generally are far less likely to cause a particular class of side effects, the extrapyramidal side effects such as restlessness, muscle stiffness, involuntary neck spasm, Parkinson’s like movements, involuntary facial and mouth movements .
It is recommended that people taking antipsychotics should have 6-12 monthly monitoring to check weight, blood pressure, fasting glucose and cholesterol, and ECG (heart trace) .
Treating depression in someone with bipolar disorder is less straightforward than for unipolar depression. For instance, in type 1 bipolar, antidepressants may be less effective . Also, mania can be triggered by use of an antidepressant, particularly if the person is not also taking a mood stabiliser. There are several classes of antidepressant. Some of their brain actions are similar, some are different, and this is reflected in the differing side effect profiles in the table below.
There are some less commonly used antidepressants available in Australia. These include mirtazapine, trazodone, the Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as phenelzine and tranylcypromine). You can read more about TCAs here  and MAOIs here .
ANTI-ANXIETY AND SLEEP MEDICATIONS
Anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics) and sleep aids (hypnotics) can be immensely helpful in the acute phase of depression and mania treatment. These are generally within the class of benzodiazepines (such as diazepam, temazepam, lorazepam) or Z drugs (such as zopiclone, zolpidem).
Both benzodiazepines (“benzos” for short) and Z drugs pose a risk of dependence, so these medications are usually prescribed for as short a time as possible. Some people do require them longer term, but this requires strict monitoring by their doctor.
Side effects can range from mild to severe. This can include daytime sedation, or impaired ability to drive, operate machinery or perform certain tasks.
In overdose, or if taken with certain other drugs (prescribed, over-the-counter or illicit), or alcohol, adverse effects can be severe and even result in coma or death. The elderly are also at particular risk from these medications.
It is possible to become dependent after just a few weeks of taking them regularly . Signs of this process happening include:
Withdrawal from benzos needs to be done with regular review by your doctor. Some people can feel unwell if reducing too quickly, and may experience agitation, insomnia, hallucinations and seizures .
WHO MIGHT BE AT INCREASED RISK FOR SIDE EFFECTS?
Older people are less able to metabolise their medications through the kidney and liver. At any age, but often more commonly seen in the elderly, being on a cocktail of medications can increase the risk for drug interactions and adverse effects. This is an important issue that needs regular monitoring by their doctor .
People who have pre-existing medical conditions may find them aggravated by weight gain, increased glucose or cholesterol. These conditions include high blood pressure, heart disease, history of stroke, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and arthritis.
Substance use disorder can be seen in one-third to one-half of people with bipolar disorder . People who drink alcohol, particularly if in excess of recommended levels, or take illicit drugs, may be at higher risk for side effects–in addition to the drugs and alcohol potentially worsening control of their bipolar disorder. Alcohol may cause dangerous interactions, especially when taken with lithium and benzodiazepines .
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SIDE EFFECTS
Keeping a journal when you start or change a drug regimen can be helpful in working out if a symptom is really a side effect or whether it is the illness, or something else entirely.
If you think you are getting side effects, regardless of whether they are new or longstanding, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor. It might be decided that they side effects are mild and non-serious, and the benefits of the medication outweigh the adverse effects, in which case you could opt to continue.
Possible other scenarios include:
TIPS FOR SPECIFIC SIDE EFFECTS
Here are some tips for specific issues. Once again, these are ideas for you to discuss with your doctor first.
MEMORY AND COGNITIVE ISSUES 
HAIR LOSS (SODIUM VALPROATE]
Medication is vital to most people’s bipolar treatment plan. It is important to be aware of possible side effects and to bring them to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible, so that you can both decide on the best course of action for your health.
If you think this article might help someone else too, please like and share.
All content within this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for individual consultation with a qualified physician.
1. Fink, C. and Kraynak, J., 2016. Bipolar Disorder for Dummies. 3rd ed. New Jersey, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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6. UpToDate. 2020. Antiseizure drugs: Mechanism of action, pharmacology, and adverse effects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/antiseizure-drugs-mechanism-of-action-pharmacology-and-adverse-effects?search=valproate&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~148&usage_type=default&display_rank=2#H1398705747. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
7. Mayo Clinic. 2018. Stevens-Johnson syndrome. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stevens-johnson-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355936. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
8. UpToDate. 2020. Second-generation antipsychotic medications: Pharmacology, administration, and side effects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/second-generation-antipsychotic-medications-pharmacology-administration-and-side-effects?search=antipsychotic&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1#H466014692. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
9. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2012. First-Generation Versus Second-Generation Antipsychotics in Adults: Comparative Effectiveness [Internet].. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK107237/. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
10. UpToDate. 2020. Second-generation antipsychotic medications: Pharmacology, administration, and side effects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/second-generation-antipsychotic-medications-pharmacology-administration-and-side-effects?search=extrapyramidal%20side%20effects&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=3#H191681745. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
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12. Hu, X., 2004. Incidence and duration of side effects and those rated as bothersome with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment for depression: patient report versus physician estimate.. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, [Online]. 65(7), 959-65. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=15291685 [Accessed 22 March 2020].
13. UpToDate. 2020. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Pharmacology, administration, and side effects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/serotonin-norepinephrine-reuptake-inhibitors-snris-pharmacology-administration-and-side-effects?search=venlafaxine§ionRank=1&usage_type=default&anchor=H276509267&source=machineLearning&selectedTitle=2~148&display_rank=1#H18324389. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
14. UpToDate. 2020. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Pharmacology, administration, and side effects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/serotonin-norepinephrine-reuptake-inhibitors-snris-pharmacology-administration-and-side-effects?search=duloxetine§ionRank=1&usage_type=default&anchor=H1409194297&source=machineLearning&selectedTitle=3~99&display_rank=2#H1409194297. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
15. myDr.com.au. 2018. Tricyclic antidepressants. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.mydr.com.au/mental-health/tricyclic-antidepressants. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
16. myDr.com.au. 2018. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) for depression. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.mydr.com.au/mental-health/monoamine-oxidase-inhibitors-maois-for-depression. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
17. benzo.org.uk. 2002. Benzodiazepines: how they work and how to withdraw. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.benzo.org.uk/manual/bzcha00.htm. [Accessed 22 March 2020].
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20. Dols, A., 2013. The prevalence and management of side effects of lithium and anticonvulsants as mood stabilizers in bipolar disorder from a clinical perspective: a review.. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, [Online]. 28(6), 287-96. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23873292 [Accessed 22 March 2020].
21. Nelson, J., 2017. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum, [Online]. 30(3), 171–174. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5556586/ [Accessed 22 March 2020].
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25. Kakunje, A., 2018. Valproate: It's [sic] Effects on Hair. International Journal of Trichology, [Online]. 10(4), 150–153. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6192236/ [Accessed 22 March 2020].
@BipolarLifeVic @finkshrink @WebMD @UpToDate @MayoClinic @NPSMedicineWise @mydrwebsite
@patient @BetterHealthGov @NHSuk
First published on Hepatitis Australia's website in March 2020
"Having HBV is only a small facet of who you are, and not a reason to give up on a loving relationship. A partner who accepts you as you are and wants the best for you is someone who will not see HBV as a barrier to getting to know you.”
Although most people get hepatitis B at birth, it can be transmitted in other ways including sex. This article contains information about how it is spreads, and how you can keep your partner safe.
How Hepatitis B is spread through sex
Hepatitis B contained in blood, semen or other fluids can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. As it is very infectious, it transmits easily through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes (the lining of the nose, mouth, eyes and other soft tissues) .
We also need to remember that hepatitis B infection can occur through non-sexual contact such as sharing toothbrushes, razors or contact with an infected open wound.
However, it is not spread through normal hugging or kissing, or sharing meals, showers or toilets with someone who has hepatitis B .
How can we prevent the spread of hepatitis B?
The best way to prevent hepatitis B infection, is to get vaccinated. Given hepatitis B can be spread in many different ways, it is strongly advised that all household contacts and sexual partners should be vaccinated, as well as using condoms with sexual partners . By the way, vaccination is usually free for the above groups .
If you are concerned you may have been put at risk of hepatitis B, or that you may have put someone else at risk, contact your GP or local sexual health clinic straight away. Your doctor can also contact a sexual partner for you, without including your details if you wish to stay anonymous.
Telling others about your diagnosis
After you have had time to come to terms with your diagnosis , you may wish to start thinking about disclosing your condition to others.There are many possible reasons for disclosure, such as:
Knowing when and how to disclose can be difficult. Some people may be supportive, whereas others may withdraw or even be angry. Often this is due to their lack of knowledge about the condition. Be prepared that a relationship may change or even end.
Here are some tips that may help with the process :
Finally, you may find these insights help you to negotiate your own relationships and communicate your diagnosis.
“My personal philosophy and method is to be selective about the people I choose to date. To me, it is important if the potential date has common sense and good character. Once I feel this person is worthy of my time and attention, I have the talk about my hepatitis B, and that HBV is vaccine preventable. If they are interested in continuing a romantic relationship with me, they need to be vaccinated to protect against HBV. Some may have already been vaccinated, and if so, HBV is no longer an issue.”
“You need to approach dating, not as who will ‘accept’ you, but rather who ‘deserves’ you. Perspective is everything. If you see a health issue like HBV as a unique barrier to intimacy others will not understand and might reject you for, you will create self-defeating thoughts that not only limit your happiness, but are inaccurate. Everyone has issues. Whether it is health, mental, social or financial, we all feel alone at times and want a connection with another soul.”
If you think this article might help someone else too, please like and share
First published on Bipolar Life's website on 17th September 2019
Why should we care about stigma?
Stigma affects many people in society, from race and gender inequality through to people living with mental health problems like bipolar disorder. It is a huge issue with myriad consequences, not least that individuals may experience knock-on effects of stigma that can even outweigh those of the mental health disorder itself. By extension, family and friends may also experience stigma, also known as ‘courtesy’ or ‘association stigma’.
How might an individual be affected by stigma?
An individual experiencing stigma may form negative attitudes and behaviours about him or herself (self-stigma), and may:
Isn’t stigma decreasing?
Despite the globally large number of public campaigns, high school education and media coverage about mental health, one might think that stigma would be less prevalent. However, according to the General Social Survey which collects data about U.S. residents, the public is in fact more stigmatising – despite increased knowledge about mental illness – than back in the 1950s.
The reasons for this surprising worsening of public opinion include:
What is stigma?
Ostracisation of members of society has existed as far back in history as ancient Greece. For example, in Athens, traitors and slaves were physically branded with ‘the mark of shame’ – ‘stigma’ in Greek.
Nowadays stigma is less visible, but most affected are those with mental illness, the homeless, and substance abusers. In one study, it was found that although people with bipolar disorders 1 and 2 experienced the same personal experience of stigma as those with unipolar depression, the impact (in terms of quality of life, social and familial relations and self-esteem) was much worse in people with bipolar disorder.
Stigma can include one or more of the following:
A survey by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the U.K. looked at public perception of people with severe depression. The most commonly held beliefs were that these people:
Dr Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, U.S.A. is well known for her work on bipolar disorder as well as her autobiographical account of her own experience of the condition. She states that these study figures are even higher when applied to people with bipolar disorder.
It is possible bipolar disorder may appear unpredictable due to its sometimes-fluctuating nature, depending on whether the individual is relatively well and getting treatment and support, or experiencing a period of depression, mania or mixed state.
A little more about self-stigma
It is not uncommon for an individual with bipolar disorder to experience negative beliefs about him or herself, which may reduce self-esteem and self-confidence. Worse still, this state of mind may lead to avoidant behaviours like not pursuing opportunities, or not challenging negative self-beliefs by gathering evidence to the contrary.
Even within the medical profession there is stigma from, and towards, other healthcare providers. Compassion without sufficient knowledge may be a contributing factor in some cases.
Dr. Jamison offers an interesting observation that the ‘silently successful’ get well because they have sought and received good care, yet they remain silent for fear of personal or professional reprisal. This in turn perpetuates the public’s misconception that the mentally ill don’t get better.
Where to from here?
Fortunately, clinicians and researchers in many countries are increasingly aware of the rise of stigma and driving ongoing important work in this field. Though there is no one simple solution, here are some helpful, evidence-based suggestions for moving forward.
A Canadian study recommended six approaches to stigma reduction:
Individuals, friends and family
On an individual level, it should be noted that self-stigma can manifest and be managed in different ways. In CREST.BD's Stigma123 Webinar, Natasha Kolida, a student and researcher with bipolar disorder, encourages education as well as being holistic and self-compassionate in one’s journey. More about CREST.BD in a moment.
Dr. Jamison advises:
In 2014 Dr. Roumen Milev, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Queen’s University, Canada ran a CREST.BD webinar about overcoming stigma in bipolar disorder. In this presentation, he describes a fascinating community-based recovery-orientated course provided to 8-10 participants with mood and anxiety disorders. Comprising seven closed two-hour sessions, content included education about stigma (covering self-stigma, family, friends and medical settings; education, housing and the workplace); some sessions taking the form of group workshops with brainstorming and role play.
Perhaps this is the sort of course we could make widely available in Australia to complement our current inpatient and community programmes for those with bipolar disorder.
Who is CREST.BD?
CREST.BD describes itself as “The Collaborative RESearch Team that studies psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder...CREST.BD is a multidisciplinary collaborative network of researchers, healthcare providers, people living with bipolar disorder, their family members and supporters.” Bipolar Life’s patron, Professor Greg Murray, is Deputy Lead and a key researcher with this inspiring international team.
CREST.BD’s website includes excellent resources and tools including videos on stigma, cognition, sleep, mood, physical health, home, self-esteem, leisure, relationships, spirituality, money, independence, identity, work and study for people with bipolar disorder.
Media and beyond
Finally, looking at how we can make a difference on a larger scale, StigmaWatch is a constructive program run by national mental health charity, SANE Australia. Its aim is to promote responsible reporting of mental illness and suicide in Australian media and is supported by Mindframe, an Australian Government initiative. This is a great example of protest being used as a tool to improve public perception of mental illness. SANE encourages anyone to report to StigmaWatch if they see inaccurate or inappropriate terminology or reporting of mental illness or suicide.
SANE’s website states that “Mindframe has also developed resources for media professionals, journalism students, scriptwriters, police and courts, and conduct briefing sessions with media organisations to discuss issues relating to mental illness and suicide”.
With so much research and an increasingly evidence-based approach to combating stigma, individuals have more power than ever to influence how bipolar disorder is seen in society. In addition, the many tools available can greatly assist an individual to reduce self-stigma and embrace life more fully.
If you think this article might help someone else too, please like and share
YouTube. 2019. Discrimination and Stigma Against Patients with Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Johns Hopkins Medicine. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Hc0NF89ryg. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
YouTube. 2019. Bipolar Disorder Stigma, Suicide & Families. CRESTBD. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eE8YSSo-tA&t=1582s. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
YouTube. 2019. Overcoming Stigma in Bipolar Disorder: Challenges and Opportunities. CRESTBD. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDJ4DSZ0Id0&t=2258s. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
YouTube. 2019. CREST.BD's Stigma123 Webinar Jan2016. CRESTBD. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=234&v=LKkpvPD903Y. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
Goodwin, J., 2014. The Horror of Stigma: Psychosis and Mental Health Care Environments in Twenty‐First‐Century Horror Film (Part II). Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, [Online]. 50/4, 224-234. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ppc.12044 [Accessed 17 September 2019].
Arboleda-Flórez, J., 2012. From sin to science: fighting the stigmatization of mental illnesses.. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, [Online]. 57(8):, 457-63. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22854027 [Accessed 17 September 2019].
CREST.BD. 2019. New directions in bipolar disorder research, treatment and care. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.crestbd.ca/. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
SANE. 2019. StigmaWatch. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.sane.org/services/stigmawatch. [Accessed 17 September 2019].
Dr Alice Lam
I'm a doctor who is passionate about writing quality health content.