THE BLOG
02/02/2007 11:38 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

BiPolar - The New "Must-Have" Disorder

I was surprised recently by a television commercial from Bristol-Myers Squibb for ABILIFY® (aripiprazole). While I've gotten used to the daily implications from drug companies that there might be something wrong with me, depression, acid reflux, restless leg syndrome, I was not prepared for a campaign targeting Bipolar disorders (previously referred to as manic-depressive). I was further astounded a few days later when I passed a bus shelter with a large poster of a woman staring off into a cloud covered sky hawking the same product.

While I'm not a hypochondriac, I have wondered if these types of campaigns from pharmaceutical companies create more symptoms than they cure. Maybe it's just me. But if there's a syndrome or an infection or a virus that I might have, or that I might be able to prevent myself from getting, I want to know about it. "An ounce of prevention..." as they say. My physician has however, on more than one occasion, hinted that I might want to take a deep breath instead of a pill. And while I jest, I do have an important point to make: Sometimes the ads are worth noticing!

I was partially surprised by the campaign for Abilify because I had started taking the drug myself about a month prior. Depression has always gotten the lion share of the press. Prozac is one of the most prescribed drugs in the world. But you never hear about bipolar disorder. I had been treated by numerous therapists and psychiatrists over the past several decades for Chronic Depression. I have been on Prozac and Zoloft and Effexor. In the "early days," I was on Norpramin and Elavil. I have been on almost every anti-depressant medication on the market. And none of them worked.

The brain is a funny thing and we still have a lot to learn about it. Some of those medications work for some people, but how or why isn't exactly understood. Treating depression has, and continues to be, a case of trial and error. I did learn, and this is the reason for this post, that if you have bipolar disorder (which I do) and you take an anti-depressant medication, not only is it not likely to work on the depression, but it can often trigger a manic episode.

The problem is not only in the prescribing of the medication, but in the diagnoses of the disease. For years I told doctors that I thought I was manic depressive, and, because I didn't fit the profile that they understood (deep depression followed by extended periods of mania) they dismissed the idea and kept trying to treat me for depression. My current therapist is as bit savvier than the others. He understands that there are many variations of bipolar, including rapid cycling, where your manic phase is not only mild, but brief.

I know how debilitating depression can be. I know how frustrating it is when you keep trying different things and nothing works. And I know there are millions of people out there going through the same struggle I did (am.) And while I'm not necessarily promoting Bristol-Myers Squibb's product, I do applaud them for bringing this disorder into focus, self-serving as it is. It took me thirty years of trial and error, thousands of dollars in prescription medications that were doomed to fail, and uncomfortable and annoying side-effects. And while Abilify may or may not be the right medication for me, at least I know I am on the right track. If you suffer from some type of mood disorder, and you have tried a number of medications without relief, it might be time for second opinion.