High functioning – it’s a concept and lifestyle all patients with Bipolar Disorder strive to achieve. For some, attaining high functioning status is a lifelong dream. For others, although it doesn’t come easily, it is reached at superior levels.

High functioning can mean a number of things for different people. High functioning could be that the patient with Bipolar Disorder is compliant with taking their prescribed medications, that the medications are working for them in a sense that they are able to lead lives free of manic or depressed episodes, and they are fully capable of working. High functioning could also mean the same, taking the doctor’s prescribed medications that work for them, but the patient must be free from stressful work situations and has to collect federal disability benefits in order to remain high functioning.

A patient with Bipolar Disorder is regarded as being high functioning if he or she meets the following criteria:

  • Takes their doctor’s prescribed medications as prescribed on a daily basis
  • The doctor prescribed medications help reduce or eliminate manic or depressed episodes in the patient’s life
  • The patient is capable of working either full- or part-time, or is collecting federal disability benefits which allow them to lead stress-free lives, thus reducing or eliminating manic or depressed episodes
  • The patient is capable of building and maintaining social and familial relationships
  • The patient is capable of maintaining financial obligations and responsibilities
  • The patient sees his or her psychiatrist and/or therapist regularly and works with his or her doctors to find the best treatment

There are many ways that a patient with Bipolar Disorder can achieve high functioning status. The patient’s daily schedule, stress, exercise, avoidance of certain aspects in life, use of vitamins and herbs, and knowledge of what to do if he or she becomes manic or depressed are all important in reaching a high functioning condition.

The daily schedule of the patient with Bipolar Disorder must be strictly adhered to. This means that the patient’s eating habits, sleep schedule, taking medications, finding balance in life, recognition of limitations, contact with family and friends, and charting a mood chart are all a part of his or her daily life in order to remain functioning.

Patients with Bipolar Disorder must eat three meals per day or small amounts throughout the day. It has been noted that when a patient with Bipolar Disorder eats one meal later on in the day, it is much harder to treat the disorder.

Patients with Bipolar Disorder must maintain a regular sleep schedule. Meaning, they must go to bed at the same time every night and sleep about the same amount every night. Not getting enough sleep can trigger manic episodes.

Medications need to be taken everyday at the same time. This should be a priority in the patient’s life.

Patients with Bipolar Disorder must find balance in their daily lives. This means that they should not overindulge in one aspect of their lives or only do one thing all day. For example, they should never spend all day on the computer. Patients with Bipolar Disorder must balance work (if they are working), relationships, time for themselves, and leisure activities daily in order to achieve high functioning status.

Recognition of limitations is one of the hardest things for high functioning patients with Bipolar Disorder to do. With this disorder, it is easy for the patient to feel well and try to do everything that comes to their mind. It is important that the patient recognizes his or her limitations, but doesn’t limit him- or herself too much. Knowing what the limitations are involves the patient knowing what affects his or her moods. It is critical.

Patients with Bipolar Disorder must always remain in contact with family and friends on a daily basis. They must be open to their opinions about how they are doing because many times family and friends will recognize a sign of a manic or depressed episode coming on long before the patient does.

Recording a mood chart on a daily basis is an excellent way for a patient with Bipolar Disorder reach and maintain a high functioning level. This can help the patient and his or her doctor determine which medications are working. It is also helpful for the patient in that it assists him or her in learning to identify triggers of manic or depressed episodes.

Stress is an extremely important factor in the patient with Bipolar Disorder’s life. Managing or not managing stress can be all the difference as to whether or not a patient is high functioning or not. Stress is known to easily trigger an episode. Managing stress could be engaging in exercise, meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, or listening to soft music. It is also very important for the patient to remove him- or herself from all stressful situations when possible.

Exercise is another extremely important factor in the patient with Bipolar Disorder’s life when trying to achieve high functioning status. It is a known fact that regular, daily exercise helps to reduce depression and also eliminates extra manic energy. With exercise, the patient will notice a considerable difference in his or her moods, stability, positive attitude toward life, energy level, and sleep patterns.

Patients with Bipolar Disorder must avoid caffeine, alcohol and illicit drugs, smoking, negative people, stress, antihistamines, and forgetting medications in order to find themselves high functioning.

In order to be high functioning, patients with Bipolar Disorder must comply with taking their doctor’s prescribed medications on a regular, daily basis as prescribed. Vitamins and herbs cannot be a replacement for the medications. Many herbs will even trigger manic or depressed episodes so patients must be careful with what they take. They should always consult with a doctor before taking any vitamin or herb.

However, there has been some research on the positive effects of some vitamins and herbs that can assist patients with Bipolar Disorder in achieving stability and high functioning status when the vitamins and herbs are taken in conjunction with their medications. These are:

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – "fish oil"
  • Free Form Amino Acid Complex
  • L-Tyrosine
  • Taurine
  • Multivitamin or multimineral formula
  • Zinc
  • Pyridoxyl-5-phospate
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Vitamin B12
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C

If the patient is considering taking vitamins and herbs in addition to their medications, it is important that the patient does his research and consults with a doctor to find out the correct dose to take.

All high functioning patients with Bipolar Disorder know what to do if they do happen to find themselves in a manic or depressed episode. High functioning patients know the signs that an episode is coming on and take the appropriate steps to stop it before it is a full-blown manic or depressed attack. These steps are, first, to relax, remove themselves from any stressful situations, call their doctor immediately, follow the doctor’s orders, take any additional or extra medication the doctor prescribes, inform family and friends of the change in their mental health and the changes the doctor ordered, and follow all the aforementioned strategies in their daily lives such as eating properly, having a regular sleep pattern, and exercising. In most cases, high functioning patients with Bipolar Disorder can "catch" an episode in this manner and avoid a complicated and devastating episode.

Bipolar Disorder is a treatable illness and patients can achieve high functioning status by following all the necessary and doctor-documented and recommended strategies to beating the illness. It may take some time, with experimentation with medications that all patients with Bipolar Disorder must go through, but high functioning can be achieved as long as the patient’s body accepts the medications and the medications work for the patient, and the patient follows the mental health beneficial tactics.