Q: Over the past 10-12 years my husband has been taking various medications for bipolar. Currently he is taking 500 mg. of Depakote, about a year or two ago he discontinued the antidepressant. Recently his psychiatrist retired without notifying him, he was informed when he went for an appointment that we was going to be seen by another doctor. Unfortunately, my husband feels that he must not really need the medication (500 mg. of Depakote) since his doctor didn’t notify him of his retirement. He intends to stop his medication once his last prescription is used up (in about a week or so) and not see the new doctor he was assigned to. He seems to be functioning well so I can see why he feels like he doesn’t need it. Although I support his wishes, I am scared that he’ll need the medication and what the side effects may be. I cannot speak to the doctor’s office due to the confidentiality law. I feel like my hands are tied. Does his doctor have any type of responsibility? What can I do? Will the side effects/withdrawal symptoms be unbearable? Any information you can provide as soon as possible will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

A: I would say you have reason to be concerned. If he truly has Bipolar Disorder, it doesn’t go away. Unlike some other psychological conditions that are situational in nature and fully treatable, Bipolar Disorder is very physiological and chronic. It is usually not a good idea to go off medications altogether and sometimes the person will relapse and may not respond to the same medications that they were on before. I understand that most people do not want to be on medications forever, but if he is considering discontinuing his meds, he really needs to do this under the care of his doctor. All medications are different and you must use care to get off of them in a way that does not lead to other problems. He should tell his new psychiatrist what he plans to do and discuss the pros and cons. It also sounds to me like he is upset that his prior doctor retired without telling him and is making his decision based on emotional reasoning. It sounds like the doctor didn’t handle things well by not giving notice so they could work on termination, but he did provide ongoing care so I don’t think there is a malpractice issue here. I encourage you to talk to your husband about the risks and suggest that he give the new doctor a try, even if it is with the ultimate goal of getting off the medication. I wish you both luck.