Treating depression and bipolar disorder with different therapies and medication is often only part of the journey. And because everyone’s path to wellness is unique, it’s important to look at other ways to support your mental health.
Support Groups can be an excellent treatment option for people living with a mental health condition. There are many different types of support groups that may meet your needs. Some support groups are provided by trained mental health professionals, while others are peer-run and led.
At DBSA we are proud to be one of the leading providers of peer-support groups for depression and bipolar across the country. Our support groups are peer-run and led, meaning individuals who live with depression and bipolar lead our support group efforts. It has been shown that finding community with individuals who have similar experiences can make you feel less alone. Depression and bipolar can feel like isolating conditions at times, but finding community and normalizing conversations on mental health can be a supportive factor for many people’s wellness. Find out more about DBSA Support Groups.
What is Peer Support?
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines Peer Support as “encompassing a range of activities and interactions between people who share similar experiences of being diagnosed with a mental health condition, substance use condition, or both.” Two people who have common experiences are peers, therefore peer support focuses on sharing common experiences and providing one another support. A peer support relationship can help treatment in a way that other professionals cannot because there is a commonality in understanding.
What is a Peer Support Specialist?
A Peer Support Specialist (PSS) is an individual who has lived experience with mental health or substance use conditions who has been trained to use their own experiences to help others. To increase the mental health workforce, many health care providers are adding Peer Support Specialists to their teams. These specialists may go by different names in different settings. For example, they may be called Certified Recovery Specialists or Peer Support Technicians. Peer Support Specialists bring a unique perspective to their work, in that they will rely on their own lived experience to provide support. When peers share their own lived experience, they normalize and share what sometimes feel like isolating and alienating symptoms.
Complementary Health Approaches
Complementary Health Approaches are defined as supportive habits that will likely go well with other forms of treatment. Exploring complementary health approaches will be unique to what your needs are in terms of wellness goals. For example, you may be interested in being more intentional, so you may want to consider adding meditation practice to your treatment plan. Common complementary health approaches include:
- Nutrition and special diet considerations
- Meditation and deep breathing
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Dance and art making
- Massage and chiropractic care
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Homeopathic products
The more holistic your treatment plan can be to meet your unique needs, the more likely you’ll see success in your treatment outcomes.
DBSA has a free resource that can help you to assess your wellness and determine if other areas of support will be needed for your wellness. The DBSA Wellness Wheel identifies seven key areas that can help you navigate what wellness means to you.
Many people who live with mood disorders have made the choice to add medications to their treatment plans. However, it can be difficult for psychiatrists and primary care doctors to pinpoint which prescriptions will provide reliable relief without unwanted side effects. Studies show that many people try different medications over periods of 5 to 10 years, searching for the right solution.
Some doctors have used pharmacogenetic testing—PGx testing for short—to provide insights that can help with treatment planning. These tests have garnered attention in news media and online conversations, so you may have wondered how they work and why you might want to consider this emerging technology.
A Closer Look at Pharmacogenetic Tests
Let’s break this long and difficult-to-pronounce word into two parts. “Pharma” is a prefix used to describe the science of pharmacology and the study of drugs. “Genetic” refers to the genetic makeup of an individual or group of people. The Mayo Clinic defines PGx testing as the study of how your genes affect your body’s response to different medications.
Our genes influence the chemical process known as metabolism, which in this case means the way your body breaks down medications and nutritional supplements. Looking at your individual genetic makeup can reveal how your body is likely to utilize a particular drug. For example, if your metabolism tends to break down some medications quickly, a standard dose might not work for you. If you tend to break down some medications more slowly, this may lead to troublesome side effects.
How This Form of Testing Works
The first step for a health care professional is to submit an order for a PGx test. Next, a small sample of your DNA is usually obtained by swabbing the inside of your cheek. Your sample will be sent to a testing lab for analysis, and the results are returned to the health care professional who ordered your test.
Your doctor will review the test results with you and discuss how your genetic makeup may inform prescribing decisions. Along with PGx test results, your age, gender, other medical conditions, and any other drugs you take may also be factors in your doctor’s recommendations about possible treatments.
Once you and your doctor come up with your overall treatment plan, including medication, you should be able to spend less time in your doctor’s office, less time struggling with work and other responsibilities, and more time living the life that you want.
Tips for Talking with Your Doctor
You may feel unsure about raising the topic of PGx testing with your psychiatrist or primary care doctor. Here are some suggestions that can help you prepare for your conversation.
- Be honest in describing how you feel about your current treatment plan. Be clear about what you think is working well, and what aspects of your treatment, including side effects, you’d like to see improved.
- Bring a complete list of your current and previous prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, including supplements for mental health and any other conditions.
- Offer the names and contact information of other health care professionals that you currently see or have seen in the past.
- Bring a family member or a close friend to your doctor’s appointment. This should be someone who can create a good environment for your conversation, help you ask clarifying questions during the appointment, and take notes for you to review later.
Cost and Privacy Issues
Two of the most common questions about PGx testing are about costs and privacy. These concerns are quite natural given the need for confidentiality of medical records and the high cost of certain newer medical technologies.
Cost. In 2019, UnitedHealthcare began covering pharmacogenetic testing. Some experts predict that other health insurers will follow. Some Medicare plans have started covering pharmacogenetic testing. We recommend you check with your insurance company to determine what out-of-pocket costs might be your responsibility. Also, in some cases, manufacturers will place a limit of a few hundred dollars on your out-of-pocket responsibility for the test.
Privacy. While each company may have different policies, leading testing organizations are fully committed to your privacy. For example, a unique ID may be assigned to your sample when it is received so that throughout the testing process your personal information is not associated with it.
Read More About PGx Testing
Here are some additional resources that can offer more information on PGx testing: