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Bipolar disorder treatments

Treatment for bipolar disorder will aim to reduce episodes of depression and mania, and their severity.

Medication, psychological therapy and lifestyle advice be recommended by a mental health specialist, usually after a referral from a GP.

Medication for bipolar disorder

Medication for bipolar disorder may be prescribed to help stabilise a person's mood swings. Possible medications include lithium (lithium carbonate), anticonvulsants and antipsychotic medicines.

The approach taken will depend on a person's individual symptoms, how often episodes happen and the circumstances.

With lithium, treatment will be prescribed for at least six months. Getting the dose right is important to manage bipolar symptoms and to avoid side effects, such as diarrhoea.

This treatment should never be stopped suddenly.

Other medical treatments for bipolar disorder

In rare cases, if medication has not been effective, electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT may be recommended.

This will only be considered after the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment have been explained and discussed.

Talk therapy for bipolar disorder

On its own, talk therapy with a therapist isn't enough to control bipolar disorder, especially during episodes of mania or depression. But together with bipolar medication, it can play a key role in your recovery and ongoing treatment. 

Types of psychotherapy used to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Behavioural therapy. This focuses on behaviour that decreases stress.
  • Cognitive therapy. This type of approach involves learning to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts.
  • Interpersonal therapy. This involves relationships and aims to reduce strains that the illness may place upon them.
  • Social rhythm therapy. This helps you develop and maintain daily routines.

The effects of bipolar disorder go well beyond the direct symptoms of a mood episode. A therapist can help you:

  • Work on your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers
  • Reduce stress
  • Resolve problems at school or work
  • Stick to your bipolar treatment and live a healthy life
  • See your situation from a new perspective
  • Learn ways to talk to other people about your bipolar disorder
  • Identify and avoid situations that may trigger a manic or depressive episode
  • Make a plan for what to do if you become depressed or manic
  • Combat stigma surrounding mental illness

In addition to personal therapy for bipolar disorder, it might be helpful to try couple's counselling or family therapy, depending on your situation.

You should find a qualified therapist -- usually a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, or counsellor -- preferably one who specialises in working with people who have bipolar disorder. Ask your GP for recommendations or get in touch with a mental health support organisation.

Support groups for bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition that can make you feel isolated. Friends and family members simply may not understand what you're going through. They may be more critical than supportive.

That's a reason to think about joining a support group for bipolar disorder. Meeting people who are in your position -- coping with the same bipolar disorder symptoms, frustrations, and fears -- can help you feel better. Other people who have bipolar disorder may also have good suggestions for living with the condition, such as ways to avoid side effects of treatment or confront stigma.

WebMD Medical Reference

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