A Holistic Approach for Treating Manic Depressive Disorders

by
Daniel T. Moore, Ph.D.
Copyrighted 1998


Note: The following is a theoretic presentation about manic depression and recommended treatments from a holistic perspective. Research is needed to determine the true effectiveness of these suggestions.


Current Treatment for Bipolar Disorders

If there is a mental disorder that is so perplexing and difficult to treat and to recognize, it would be manic depression (bipolar disorders). Scientists know little information about it. What we do know is that it tends to have a high genetic cause. Of all the mental health disorders, manic depression probably displays the most prominent genetic link. Some suggest as much as 70 percent of persons with manic depression also had a close relative with the disorder. No one knows why some family members get the disorder and others do not.

The consequences of Manic Depressive Disorders are very serious. Individuals with manic depression often lose their family, jobs, and too often their lives. Usually people lose much before they go into treatment. For some, even after they start treatment, they continue the downward cycle due to the ineffectiveness of current treatment strategies.

Only within the last twenty years has mental health practitioners found treatments for Manic Depression. Lithium is still considered a relatively new drug. Since Lithium, newer drugs have been used including anti-convulsion medications such as Depakote and Tegretol. A person might wonder how anti-convulsant medications work to control mood swings.

One theory suggests that Manic Depression is really a seizure disorder. This makes sense if you consider that most acute manic or depressive episodes occur without rhyme or reason. Evidence for this theory exists in some recent practices of diagnosing bi-polar disorders through sleep deprived EEG. The reason the EEG needs to occur after hours of wakefulness is that the brain is more susceptible to epileptic type seizures in a sleep deprived state. If such an EEG indicates seizure like activity then the diagnosis of manic depressive disorder is confirmed. Usually an anti-seizure medication is thus prescribed. Naturally, additional evidence for this theory exists in the fact that anti-seizure medication is just as effective as Lithium in controlling mood swings.

A major problem with the current use of medications for manic depression is that rarely is the same dosage effective for an extended period of time. In most people with manic depression, the medications work for a while, but then are adjusted. Usually medications will need to be adjusted many times. Often the changes involve using harsh drugs such as an anti-psychotic medication that can have severe consequences on the body. Individuals on anti-psychotic medication often gain weight and may develop involuntary muscle movement called tardive dyskinesia. .

Another fact to consider is that medications do not heal the body. Medications are given to reduce symptoms of manic depression. People with manic depressive disorder are often told that they will need to take medication for the rest of their life.

Not taking medication is not the answer either. For most people with serious manic depression, medication is an absolute necessity. They simply could not function without it. Thus when treating manic depression medication should not be excluded.

The goal of holistic psychology in treating this disorder is to completely heal the body. This healing process will reduce the need for medication. Once medication has reduced the amount of manic depressive symptoms, healing techniques can be applied to prevent increases in medications and start the healing process. The ultimate goal of holistic psychology is to heal all body organs associated with the production of healthy brain chemicals and that prevent mood swings. Over time, if the healing techniques are successful, the need for medication is reduced and in some cases, people can eventually overcome their need for any medication. The method of applying holistic psychology is to assist the body to return to normal functioning as naturally as possible.

The Essential Elements to an Holistic Approach

Holistic Psychology is not just a simple prescription for treatment. It involves adopting a lifestyle that encourages peace of mind, health and enjoyment in life. Essential elements in this proposed treatment model include diet, nutrition, exercise, biofeedback, mood control techniques, and effective support systems. These elements will be explained briefly. Each topic will suggest sources for further information. It has been our experience that individuals who adopt a holistic approach to emotional problems become healthy in many areas of their lives.

Diet

Few could argue that nutrition is an important component for healthy living. Most Americans are reducing fat, monitoring cholesterol levels, reducing their intake of artificial ingredients, taking vitamins and other nutritional supplements, ceasing to smoke, etc. Has anyone from the medical profession looked at the effects of diet and nutrition on individuals with manic depressive disorder? The answer is that some have. Dr. James F. Balch and Phyllis A. Balch, summarize this research and provide diet and vitamin and supplement information for manic depressives. Among other recommendations, they suggest a diet free of sugar, dairy products, alcohol, soda and caffeine. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes are encouraged. According to Dr. and Mrs. Balch, whitefish and turkey should be eaten twice a week. Our clients have agreed that much caffeine and sugar can start a mild manic episode. Further information about dieting can be obtained by reading the book: Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James F. Balch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balch, C.NC.. The importance of diet can not be emphasized enough. To put it bluntly, a person with a manic depressive disorder who continues to eat junk food (food with sugar, caffeine, additives and preservatives) is not doing all that he/she can do to get well. In many cases they drive their bodies to need more medication to control their symptoms of manic depression. They continue the downward spiral common to so many people with the illness.

Some medications prescribed to individuals with manic depression cause the body to gain weight. This is an unhealthy side effect. If you need to take these medications and are gaining weight, you still should work toward a healthy body. This can be accomplished by doing exercises and avoiding unhealthy foods.

If you choose to diet for weight loss, be careful to choose the right kind of diet. Some diets may cause a chemical imbalance that is not good for manic depression. Before trying any diet, understand how that diet works and how it causes weight loss. Use this information with other information that you are learning to make effective decisions that will ultimately lead to full health. When in doubt, consult a physician or psychiatrist that is also knowledgeable in nutrition and diet.

Nutrition

Just as plants and animals need nutritional supplements (e.g., fertilizer) to be healthy and productive, individuals with manic depressive disorder need specific supplements. Dr. and Mrs. Balch provide this information which includes high dosages of vitamin B complex, various amino acids (e.g., L-Taurine, L-Tyrosine), zinc, calcium and vitamin C. They suggest dosages and includes the level of importance these vitamins place on developing a healthy body free of symptoms of manic depressive disorder. We highly recommend that you read the entire book. The book explains nutrition and how and why it works. Once you gain an understanding of nutritional supplements, you are more likely to make wise decisions concerning herbs, vitamins and healthy foods that will help you have normal weight, overcome physical illnesses, and develop a healthy, stable mind.

Exercise

The body needs exercise to stay healthy. Through perspiration, toxins that are in the body can exit through the sweat glands. Individuals with manic depressive disorders report that their moods are more stable when their bodies are fit. Choose an exercise program that makes sense to you and practice it daily. There are hundreds of exercise programs available and you only need one that is right for you.

Mental Control Techniques

There are several techniques of mental control to choose from. These include: hypnosis, meditation, accelerated conditioning, and relaxation. These techniques can make a difference when the mood swings first start. They may not be as effective if the mood swings are acute or intense. However they can be an effective tool to prevent a mood swing from getting out of hand. For example, people experienced in hypnosis know that the mind can do amazing things. Through hypnosis, the mind can get the body to do much what medications do (e.g., take away pain, reduce or raise blood pressure, prevent migraine headaches, delay allergy attacks). This phenomena can be helpful for individuals with manic depressive disorders to control their moods. With self-hypnosis you can actually prevent a manic episode or put yourself in a less depressed mood.

Another technique that claims similar results is Accelerated Conditioning. This technique was developed by a person with manic depression. These are two of the many to download mood tracking programs techniques for mental control.

The first step in using techniques for mood control is to pick a technique that interests you. When your mood is relatively stable, learn that technique. You are more likely to master a technique when your mood is stable. If you have been tracking your mood swings, then you have an idea of when is the best time to master a technique. Once the technique is mastered then it is time to apply it when you feel your mood starting to swing.

EEG Biofeedback

No matter what your mood is, EEG biofeedback is now being applied to help the brain get back to normal. While there is not much research on the effectiveness of EEG Biofeedback for bipolar disorders, many clinicians are reporting success. On reason EEG Biofeedback was considered to be a treatment for manic depressive disorder is due to the fact that EEG biofeedback used on epilepsy is well researched in animals and humans. The research suggests that EEG Biofeedback reduces epileptic type seizures. Because EEG Biofeedback can prevent epileptic seizures, it may also stabilize moods just as anti-seizure medications do. Clinicians report that many sessions are needed to get an individual with manic depressive disorder to become independent of their medication. Some participants of EEG biofeedback notice differences immediately while others report noticing differences over a period of time. A case study of an individual successfully treated for manic depressive disorder through EEG biofeedback was presented at the Society for the Study of Neuronal Regulation in 1995.

Medication

Most people who are bipolar seek treatment after they have had significant symptoms and their bipolar problem is "in full force". At such a state in the developmental process of Bipolar disorder, the best and fastest road to recovery is medication. Too often individuals start the medication only to go off the medication too soon. In our opinion, this only delays recovery.

Once the symptoms of manic depression have been reduced through medication, other efforts should be used to start the healing process. Diet, exercise, EEG Biofeedback, and other techniques are more likely to be successful after symptoms have been reduced via medication. After these techniques are mastered and with the guidance of a knowledgeable physician or psychiatrist should an actual reduction in medication be attempted. Again, too many people with this disorder practice medicine on their own, only to relapse into their symptoms and continue that downward spiral. However with patience, consistency and practicing these principles, this spiral can be turned around. It is our opinion that the ultimate goal of holistic psychology is to live a healthy lifestyle with the lowest amount of medication as possible.

Social Supports

During the onset of manic depression, social activities and social contacts usually suffer. When a person is depressed they tend to hide from people. Manic episodes can cause friends to retreat due to the inconsistent behaviors or behaviors that were offensive to others. Part of a healthy lifestyle is being able to interact with others in a meaningful way.

Religious individuals with manic depressive disorders will often stop going to church as the illness develops. Some feel guilty for the behaviors done. It is important to really understand the illness and realize how it effects your spiritual devotion. This devotion does not have to be discarded because one is suffering from manic depression. All healthy social supports are necessary and will be helpful in the future.

After the manic depressive symptoms are stabilized, it will be easier to regain friendships and work on previous relationships. Too often divorced or separated individuals with manic depression try to save their marriages before they are healed or stabilized. Their efforts often result in driving their loved ones away. With this disorder it is important that all family members, including children, become educated in an holistic approach to treatment, help implement effective interventions and get as many supports as possible. Fortunately there are many support groups and educative agencies available. Many support groups follow a too restrictive medical model, but holistic support groups are growing in popularity. Check them all out until you find the ones you like.

Summary

Manic depression or bipolar disorder is often termed a chronic mental illness. Individuals with this diagnosis often lose their employment, families and everything they have. Current theory and treatment does not give hope of returning quickly to normal functioning. A more optimistic approach is necessary. Holistic psychology offers treatment suggestions that has as an ultimate goal, complete recovery from symptoms of manic depression. Medication and other techniques are tools in achieving this goal. The other tools for a healthy life style include proper diet and nutrition, exercise, psychological techniques that help control moods, EEG biofeedback, and social support systems. Once this life style is achieved most wonder how they have lived so long without receiving the joys of being healthy physically, emotionally, and socially.


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