2) Education

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My husband, George, was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I know we should learn about bipolar disorder and we have been given a stack of pamphlets from the mental health clinic as well as taking out several books on bipolar disorder from the library. I can’t seem to find the time to go through all of this information – it is overwhelming! And I know it overwhelms my husband too! Why should I spend time on reading this information when I am trying to help George out as much as I can? We are already signed up for some groups so I don’t see the point of doing both!

Evidence shows that learning as much as you can about bipolar disorder is helpful and effective. This can be done by reading, talking with professionals or others who have experience with bipolar disorder, by participating in group educational sessions or other means. If you have already read through the "Cure, Prevention and Prognosis" pages this information will not be new to you! Some of the reasons for educating oneself listed by research done with people with bipolar disorder and their families, show that educating oneself can support recovery. This can happen by learning how to recognize symptoms so as to reduce their severity which can improve long-term outcomes. Problem solving and coping strategies can be learned through education, which are important to your relationship with your husband as well as to each of your wellbeing. Education can help you learn self management skills and assist your husband in this area as well. Educational therapies or groups can encourage collaboration between professionals, family members and loved ones. Also, it has been shown that trying a variety of educational interventions is important to find out what works in each individual’s situation. One other important avenue to explore, besides reading through the pamphlets and books that you already have, is to browse the internet. A study of a variety of web-based information on bipolar disorder concluded that the content of information on bipolar disorder is of good quality. This is great news for those family members who live in rural or isolated areas!

The mental health care system seems so complicated. What are my options for care of my loved one?

Good question. There are a variety of options available in Canada for caring for people with mental illnesses. The first point of entry into the healthcare system may impact the care you receive. For example, if your loved one is seen in the acute care setting (general hospital), the staff may not be aware or knowledgeable about bipolar disorder and not respond effectively to the situation. Many staff that work in acute care settings are in need or more education on mental illness, including bipolar disorder. There are a variety of improvements being made in this area as the healthcare system realizes this area for improvement. Many people will first see their family doctor for problems surrounding their bipolar disorder. Many family doctors will refer you to a local mental health clinic as the professionals there are better equipped to steer you in the right direction for care. From the local mental health clinic people may be referred to psychiatric hospitals for assessment and stabilization.

Another avenue that families can pursue is the use of private mental health care practices. Every community and province offers different services so it is important to talk to others, search your local phone book and browse online for appropriate services.

The following list offers some explanation of the kinds of settings that may be available to you:

  • Hospitals – may be long term or short term stays, can be general hospital setting or psychiatric hospital, may include locked or unlocked settings
  • Group homes/Assisted living/Supported Housing – small, home-like environments where a group of people live together, ranging from single houses to apartment complexes, staff may or may not be available for assistance
  • Outpatient services – community mental health clinics, day treatment programs

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