Untreated Bipolar Disorder

Apparently, the biggest reason for bipolar people to not take their meds is Anosognosia, or being unaware they (we!) have an illness. It comes into play when an episode happens.

… anosognosia is thought to be caused by damage to the brain, particularly the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain’s right hemisphere. The right hemisphere of the brain controls thinking skills, and damage can result in a number of problems, including difficulty with reasoning and problem solving.

From my initial reading, I gathered that the most serious consequences of not being treatment compliant were rampant episodes plus an increased chance of suicide, but there’s a whole lot more. Basically it boils down to the fact that dear old bipolar (insert hollow laugh here) can be progressive.

The consequences of untreated bipolar disorder:

Future manic and depressive episodes will be harder to prevent.
The disease can worsen with time without consistent treatment, meaning that the intensity and frequency of manic and depressive episodes will continue to increase over a person’s lifetime.
Most likely it will be harder to function consistently in various areas of your life, such as school, work, family and peer relationships, or participation in extra-curricular activities without continued treatment.

No meds means a doubled chance of episodes, an increase of depressive over manic episodes and the possibility of developing rapid cycling bipolar disorder. source

I also posted info recently, about the increased health risks and brain damage associated with bipolar, all of which can occur unchecked if medication is not used. The fact that stuck with me most is that it shrinks the hippocampus (see image).

It used to be thought that if you had bipolar disorder, you would return to normal in between mood swings. We now know that this is not so for many people with bipolar disorder. You may continue to experience mild depressive symptoms and problems in thinking even when you seem to be better. more

Natasha Tracy, as ever, has a quality post. This one is about treating bipolar without meds.

See also Taking or not taking medications: psychiatric treatment perceptions in patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder.


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battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

21 thoughts on “Untreated Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Such fascinating (and scary) stuff. I’ve always been interested in how the brain works … perhaps subconsciously I always knew that something wasn’t quite right with mine. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Do you know why untreated bipolar disorder could result in brain damage? After having researched chemicals and psychology in and out of college, I have come to the conclusion that the unbalanced brain can only become balanced by leading a balanced lifestyle. Medication, without life therapy, only temporarily alleviates the symptoms. Unfortunately, in today’s society, a balanced lifestyle does not exist, as more and more people are forced to work work work with little downtime.


    1. Hi it’s explained better in the health and brain damage info link.

      I agree with you re balance. My psychiatrist stressed that a structured day and exercise are essential.


  3. I’ve noticed over the years, having worked with many people with often dramatic and dangerous mania, that compared with other episodic illnesses, people seem not to notice how different they feel and are during an episode, and remember the experience of being manic rather vaguely. They thus dismiss the severity of it to a remarkable extent compared to other people, and can be rather hard to convince to accept treatment.

    Plus, mania has it’s pleasant and/or advantagious aspects.

    Tough sell!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I found this post and its comment difficult to read. I reduced my meds with the permission of two doctors. I cannot take back the mania that ensued. At the same time I was under a great deal of stress. This is the rock and the hard place. We can practice healthy diet and lifestyle choices in so far as income and circumstances allow. But life happens. Many of us have children, may go through divorces, death in the family, loss of income or housing, diagnosis with serious co-morbid conditions and on and on. Life continues to happen and we can’t always say “excuse me, I can’t deal with this crisis right now, I have a mental illness.” Cruelly the very task of rising to difficult situations is what many of us manic minded types do well and well, eventually off we go. On the flip side, depression is not tolerated as well meaning folk say they know how you feel. Finally there is constant pressure from those around us at times to not take psych meds. People who really need help with serious depression (which occurs to many people outside of serious mood disorders) frequently avoid seeking any medical support even though in those cases meds are often temporary.

    Those who are blessed to be surrounded by all the medical insurance they could want and a troop of mentally stable friends, family and caregivers to ensure that LIFE doesn’t get in the way will do fine. The other 99% of us have to make do.

    Sorry for the rant. And trust me I won’t cut my meds back again no matter how weel or how long I manage to sail these troubled waters without capsizing.


    1. Well, the info says meds can reverse/repair some damage. And my shrink said the other day, that the antidepressants I was on for the decades I was undiagnosed would have kept me safe. Hope that helps.


      1. Thanks. Just frustrated by the fact that no matter what we do we’re screwed. Thing is we still know so little about the brain. In brain injury it is even more hit and miss with the meds they use.


          1. We discussed going off my meds altogether but I decided that I simply wanted to cut them in half and maintain a prophylactic dose. Of course my psych should have recommended more regular visits to monitor,because the idea was that I should have been able to increase the meds if symptoms recurred. I was so busy and under stress that I was no able to self regulate and my doctor was working for this private clinic and under massive stress herself. Kind of a perfect storm. That is the thing with hypomanic/manic swings. They can get caught up and “normalized” as real life. We have a culture that expects and celebrates those who put in 150 % until it’s too late. That’s why bipolar disorder shows up in business, the military and other areas that push the envelope as well as the creative arts (or rather fields that incorporate a different type of creative thinking).


  5. Great post….I’ve only just started blogging myself and this post gives me something to aspire to! I have just been through a cycle of convincing myself that I could be in control without meds and suffering the inevitable relapse so posts like this are great to reinforce the lesson I’ve already learned

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, good to meet you. I only got diagnosed 2-3 months ago, so I started blogging to have somewhere to dump my own thoughts and research, as well as to talk to other bipolar people. On my way to your blog now :)


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