Some people may find it off-putting to buy a “Dummies” book on a health or mental health concern. “How can they talk about such a serious condition in this sort of do-it-yourself book?”
But that’s exactly the point — and the beauty — of the latest edition of Bipolar Disorder for Dummies by board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Candida Fink and Joe Kraynak, MA. It’s a book primarily meant for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the first time. The third edition has been revised to include new medications and the new symptom criteria used to diagnose this condition, among other changes and updates.1
The “Dummies” format of the book makes it immediately approachable and easy to read. You won’t find a lot of psychobabble in the book — confusing psychological or psychiatric terms. It’s use of icons, checkmarks, and boxes that explain components in greater depth help highlight the important stuff visually. And like most Dummies series books, it’s written in short paragraphs that don’t lose your attention.
While nobody will confuse it for an academic book, that’s actually a good thing. Because the authors manage to include all of the information one might find in such a book, but make it digestible for people who may be coming from a wide range of backgrounds when it comes to bipolar disorder. Some may know next to nothing about it, while others may have some rudimentary knowledge or information based upon a movie or magazine article.
Bipolar Disorder for Dummies is divided into seven different sections. In the first part, the authors introduce you to understanding the basics of bipolar disorder, including how it’s diagnosed, the possible causes of the disorder, and its general prognosis and treatment. Differential diagnoses and special populations (such as teens) are also well-addressed in this first section. I especially appreciated the nuanced discussion about all of the potential causes of bipolar:
“These underlying disorders develop from complex combinations of genetic and nongenetic factors that the scientific community is only just beginning to understand. Importantly, the growing science of bipolar disorder can help eliminate the commonly held myth that it’s some type of weakness or defect in moral character. Make no mistake — bipolar disorder is a real physical illness or illnesses.”
The second section delves more deeply into the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Topics covered include how do you get a diagnosis and evaluation, ruling out other health issues that may be mimicking the symptoms of bipolar, working on a treatment plan, and how to build a treatment team that works together on all of the different components of addressing this condition.
Part three is a significant component of the book, focusing on the biology of bipolar disorder symptoms through medications. Everything a person needs to know or would want to know about bipolar medications is covered (and updated) in this section. It includes a good discussion about understanding side effects of psychiatric medications and coming to terms with them. Chapter 9 goes into other kinds of things you can do to help bipolar symptoms, including supplements, light therapy, and newer kinds of treatments like rTMS and DBS. The section ends with a focus on the challenges of bipolar disorder in specific groups of people, such as women and older adults.
In the fourth section, we learn about the self-help strategies that should be a part of any bipolar sufferer’s arsenal. It includes chapters covering learning new coping skills, making lifestyle adjustments (such as learning how to reduce conflict and establishing healthier routines), improving your ability to communicate with others, and learning problem solving skills. If it sounds like it covers a lot of ground, it’s because the authors do — and do it well. Virtually any mental illness could be helped by a person learning the skills and planning advice doled out in this part of the book.
I particularly enjoyed one call-out in the chapter on communicating more effectively entitled, “How to apologize… and how not to:”
“People with bipolar disorder shouldn’t have to apologize for what the disorder makes them do, but apologies have the power to heal relationships and liberate everyone involved from guilt and resentment — assuming, of course, that the apologies are sincere and delivered in an appropriate manner.”
How-to’s like this pepper the book throughout, providing deceptively simple yet surprisingly effective advice to help with everyday problems in life.
Section five discusses how to deal with the fallout of a hospitalization and relapse, which is not uncommon for those with bipolar disorder. It also discusses returning to work and offers advice on how to attack financial issues (which are also a fairly common issue to those with bipolar). The sixth part of the book is targeted toward loved ones and friends, what they need to know in order to help them better understand bipolar disorder, how to best support a person with the disorder, and what to do in a crisis situation. It also includes a chapter for parents on strategies to help their child or teen with bipolar disorder.
The final section offers ten tips for managing bipolar disorder, as well as ten ways a loved one can help someone with bipolar disorder.
If I had to recommend a single book to someone newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it would easily be Bipolar Disorder for Dummies. It’s also a valuable resource for anyone who has a loved one who suffers from this disorder and would like to better understand what the person is facing — and how they can best help themselves.