medication for bipolar depression 2For patients with bipolar disorder, medication will likely be a part of one’s treatment plan. Medication can bring mania and depression under control and prevent relapse once mood has stabilized. As people with diabetes need to take insulin to stay healthy, taking medication for bipolar disorder helps maintain a stable mood.

Treatment for bipolar depression has come a long way in a short while. Not so long ago, patients were given sedatives and medications with numerous side effects. Today, mood-stabilizing drugs are a mainstay treatment for bipolar disorder. Doctors may prescribe lithium, an antimanic drug, or an antipsychotic drug—or a combination of both—to alleviate symptoms of depression without triggering a manic episode.

What is Bipolar Depression?

Bipolar depression, or bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings such as emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

When individuals become depressed, they may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When their mood shifts to mania or hypomania, they may feel euphoric, full of energy, or unusually irritable. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly.

There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve evident changes in mood, energy, and activity levels.

  • Bipolar I disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days or by severe manic symptoms that require immediate hospital care. Typically, depressive episodes occur as well
  • Bipolar II disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder (also called Cyclothymia)— defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years (1 year in children and adolescents)

People typically experience periods of wellness between episodes of depression or mania. Episodes of depression or mania generally last for some time, though a small number of people may experience episodes that change quickly. The frequency and type of incident can also vary greatly. For example, some people experience many episodes of depression with only a few episodes of hypomania or mania. Others experience long periods of wellness with only a few episodes during their lifetime.

How Can You Treat Bipolar Depression Effectively?

One of the challenges facing clinical psychiatry is how to treat bipolar depression effectively. Surprisingly, its neurobiology and rational decisions about its treatment remain somewhat of a mystery. Recent findings have even called into question the role of traditional antidepressants in bipolar depression when other classes of drugs may be more effective first-line treatments for this illness.

Since finding the right drug and dose can be tricky, it’s important to work closely with a specialist and re-evaluate your medication regularly. It’s also important to remember that taking medication is just one aspect of a successful treatment program. There are plenty of other steps you can take to manage your symptoms and even reduce the amount of medication required. Healthy lifestyle changes, self-help coping strategies, and exploring therapy are also important in coping with bipolar disorder symptoms and helping you live a full, productive life.

What’s the Standard Treatment for Bipolar Depression?

medication for bipolar depression 2Mood-stabilizing medication works on improving social interactions, mood, and behavior. It is recommended for both treatment and prevention of bipolar mood states that swing from the lows of depression to the highs of hypomania or mania. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), lithium, lamotrigine, valproate, carbamazepine, and most atypical antipsychotic medications are approved by the FDA for treating one (or more) phases of bipolar disorder.

In some patients with bipolar disorder, a mood stabilizer may be all that’s needed to modulate the depressed mood. However, in bipolar patients who do not respond to one mood stabilizer, another mood stabilizer or an atypical antipsychotic is sometimes added to the treatment regimen.

Some commonly prescribed antipsychotics include:

  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Episodes of mania and depression typically come back over time. Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms. Long-term, continuous treatment can help people manage these symptoms.

To learn more about treating bipolar depression with medication, please find a pharmacy near you.

Reviewed by Marie Coon, PharmD.