Mood stabilizing medication for bipolar disorder (BPD) is one way to treat this mental illness, and there are other treatment options as well. For some people, it may be necessary to spend time in bipolar residential treatment facilities to get the combination of medications that are right for them.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder was called manic-depressive illness or manic depression at one point. This mental health disorder causes extreme changes in mood, activity levels, energy, and the ability to function in day-to-day life. How do you know if you’re bipolar?
Bipolar I Disorder
You may experience manic episodes lasting at least seven days or severe manic symptoms requiring hospitalization. Depressive episodes will occur in most cases with bipolar I disorder. The depressive episodes usually last at least two weeks.
Bipolar II Disorder
Includes patterns of depressive episodes along with hypomanic episodes. However, this type of bipolar doesn’t usually have severe manic episodes that occur in bipolar I.
Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia
This is the third type of BPD that includes periods of hypomania followed by depressive symptoms, lasting for at least two years.
Many people are diagnosed during their late teen years or early adulthood, but sometimes symptoms occur in childhood. The symptoms of bipolar disorder may come and go and change in their severity, but bipolar is a lifelong condition. Treatment can help you manage the symptoms and live a fulfilling life.
Signs of episodes of mania in bipolar can include:
- Feeling very high or elated
- Irritability is one of the symptoms of mania
- Feeling jumpy or on edge
- Needing less sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Speaking rapidly
- Racing thoughts
- Making risky decisions, such as spending a lot of money or drinking excessively
- Feeling unusually talented, consequential, or essential may occur during a manic episode
Symptoms of a depressive episode can include:
- Feeling hopeless, empty, or sad
- Slowness or restlessness
- Problems falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Eating more
- Weight gain
- Talking slowly
- Problems with concentration or decision-making
- Not able to do simple tasks
- No interest in activities
- Thinking about death or suicide
- Feeling hopeless
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Medication may be the first-line treatment, including mood-stabilizing medication options. For almost everyone, medication alone isn’t enough, however, for successful treatment, many factors should come together, including having a solid support system, making healthy life choices, communicating regularly with your treatment teams, and participating in talk therapy.
It can also take time to see a reduction in your symptoms after you begin treatment for this mood disorder, and the treatment itself can have ups and downs. There are often setbacks, and finding the right treatment does take time and patience, but this is true with other mental health conditions.
Treatment of bipolar disorder will usually include:
- Medication: Mood stabilizers are the foundation of a treatment plan. With long term medications, you’ll notice your highs and lows stabilize, and these medicines can help you keep your symptoms in control.
- Psychotherapy: Also called talk therapy or behavioral therapy, you can learn more about your condition and how it affects your life and behavior when you work with a therapist or mental health professionals. You can learn how to regulate your mood, healthily deal with stress and cope with complicated feelings. You might participate in both individual therapy and family therapy.
- Education: Learning about your symptoms can help you identify potential complications before they become more significant problems. Your loved ones might also want to learn as much as they can about your mental health disorder, group therapy is a good opportunity for this growth.
- Lifestyle changes: While improving your physical health won’t cure your disorder, this lifestyle-based treatment can help reduce your symptoms and stabilize your mood. Some beneficial lifestyle changes include getting enough sleep and having a regular sleep schedule, not using drugs and alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and exercising. Regular sun exposure and minimizing your stress are also helpful.
- Support system: Whether it’s family, friends, or community resources, a strong support system can help you stay motivated and positive when you’re dealing with a diagnosis of bipolar.
Mood Stabilizing Medication for Bipolar Disorder
As we mentioned above, mood-stabilizing medication is usually the cornerstone of a treatment program. Mood stabilizers decrease abnormal brain activity. These medicines can help reduce mood swings and prevent both manic and depressive episodes; talk to your doctor if you think this might be right for you.
With most mood stabilizers, it can take several months for people with bipolar disorder to see the full benefits, so you need to stay patient and stick with your treatment plan. Finding the right option can come down to trial and error because everyone’s brain is different.
Common mood stabilizers include:
- Lithium: Lithium reduces the risk of suicide significantly, and it has other health benefits as well. For example, it can lower the risk of cancer and stroke, common in people with bipolar symptoms. Lithium is a mood stabilizer that tends to work best for classic symptoms, including a predominance of manic over depressive symptoms.
- Quetiapine: This mood stabilizer is best for mixed manias, and it can help with acute depressive episodes. In particular, quetiapine can help with insomnia and anxiety.
- Lurasidone and lamotrigine: Lurasidone is known as Latuda, and lamotrigine’s brand name is Lamictal. Both help with mood fluctuations, and they are atypical antipsychotics.
- Divalproex sodium: The brand name for this medicine is Depakote. Depakote, in particular, helps the manic phase of bipolar disorder. This medicine is also to prevent migraines and to help with seizure disorders.
- Valproic acid: Used for treating seizure disorders and the manic phase of bipolar disorder, this medication can restore the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Mood stabilizers can have side effects such as:
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
- Upset stomach
- Slurred speech
- Blacking out
- Vision changes
- Loss of coordination
If you take a mood stabilizer and experience symptoms, you should tell your doctor right away.
Bipolar Disorder Treatment Centers
In severe cases, people might need to go to residential treatment programs until their individualized treatment plans are mapped out and begin to take effect. In a residential program, patients can work on medication management, structure, and stabilization. They can do so away from the stresses of their daily life and triggers that might take them off track.
An inpatient treatment program also provides ongoing mental health treatment access.
Someone with co-occurring disorders may receive treatment for that while being treated for their bipolar disorder.
The most important thing to remember is that bipolar disorder is a difficult diagnosis, but effective treatment is available. When you’re consistent with your treatment and get your medication to a point where it’s stabilizing your symptoms, you can also work on other treatment goals like therapy participation.
With bipolar medications, some experimentation is required to find the right medicine and dosage, but sticking with it will help you have a productive, positive quality of life.
Please, if you or a loved one is dealing with bipolar disorder, call (858) 258-9883 to reach out to the team at The Mental Health Center of San Diego to find out more about the treatment options available and how there can be relief from the symptoms.