VA Mental Health – Health Care Providers Treating Bipolar Disorder
Health Care Provider
A number of resources are available to health care providers who work with Veterans and may be concerned about a Veteran experiencing bipolar disorder.
Resources To Share With Veterans
With treatment and self-management skills, people with bipolar disorder can lead productive and fulfilling lives. Treatment for Veterans diagnosed with bipolar disorder does not follow a one-size-fits-all plan. That’s because each person’s symptoms, life circumstances, and other physical and mental health issues are unique. Veterans should work with their care providers to develop a personalized plan that fits their needs. Below are some options to consider together.
Medication is necessary in most cases of bipolar disorder. However, because no single treatment affects everyone the same way, it is important for Veterans to work closely with their prescribers to find the right solution for them. At VA, programs and services are designed to treat each Veteran as an individual, including finding the treatments and programs that fit best for each Veteran’s personal needs and goals.
Psychological Treatments and Social Supports
Psychological and social interventions can help Veterans who have bipolar disorder learn new ways to process their thoughts and interact with others — an essential part of the recovery process. VA provides the following treatments and supports for bipolar disorder:
- Psychoeducation: This approach involves teaching Veterans with bipolar disorder about the condition, treatment, and signs of relapse that can help them know when to seek support, before an episode occurs. Psychoeducation is also available to family members to learn how they can support their loved one.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy helps Veterans diagnosed with bipolar disorder learn to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with the condition.
- Illness management and recovery (IMR): This program helps Veterans learn about bipolar disorder, acquire coping skills, and set meaningful goals to support their mental health and recovery.
- Peer Specialists: Peer Specialists have personal experience with bipolar disorder and recovery, and they have completed peer-counselor training. They can help Veterans navigate the VA mental health system, connect Veterans with community-based and VA resources, or advocate for Veterans’ needs. As a Veteran who “has been there” in dealing with mental illness, a Peer Specialist can be a terrific ally in a fellow Veteran’s recovery journey. Ask your primary care or mental health provider whether Peer Specialist services are available at your facility.
In addition to medications, psychosocial treatments play a key role in the treatment of bipolar disorder. These treatments help individuals develop skills and supports needed to be successful in their daily lives and help with symptoms that remain after treatment with medication. VA provides the following psychosocial treatments:
- Assertive Community Treatment: Assertive community treatment helps people with serious mental illnesses access regular treatment by clinicians who visit clients in the home or in their local community. This treatment has been shown to decrease the number of hospitalizations and help people live independently and remain employed. VA offers a version of assertive community treatment that has been modified for the VA health system known as Intensive Community Mental Health Recovery (ICMHR) Services.
- Supported Employment: Supported employment, specifically the individual placement and support model, helps individuals with serious mental illnesses find and keep jobs. Compared with other patients, those who have received these services more often found jobs, worked more hours, were employed longer, and earned more money.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps people understand relationships among their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and learn new patterns of thinking to support positive feelings.
- Illness Management and Recovery (IMR): IMR helps those with serious mental illnesses set meaningful goals and learn skills to support their mental health and recovery.
- Social Skills Testing (SST): SST was developed to help Veterans learn effective social skills that aid in their recovery. SST includes education, breaking skills down into simple steps, modeling, role-playing, and group support.
In Veterans' Own Words
Clinicians can use Make the Connection as a tool to engage with Veterans or family members who may be reluctant to seek support.