Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 5 Common Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

5 Common Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic-depressive illness, is characterised by significant fluctuations in mood, energy, and daily activities. While our grasp of mental health has evolved considerably over time, bipolar disorder’s prevalence remains consistent, impacting approximately 0.5% of people annually.

This condition not only affects individuals who are diagnosed but also their loved ones. Recognising its prevalence and profound impact, it’s essential to emphasise the significance of an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management for those grappling with bipolar disorder.

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Medication is undeniably a cornerstone in the treatment of many mental health disorders. However, relying solely on medication, despite its important role, might not always capture the holistic healing that individuals often need. When therapy complements medication, the outcomes can be profoundly impactful. For instance, CBT for bipolar disorder treatment is particularly notable.

This research-backed method offers a deep exploration into a person’s cognitive patterns. Cognitive behavioural therapy assists patients in discerning detrimental thought patterns and behaviours that might be ingrained over time. Once these patterns are recognised, the therapy offers actionable strategies, teaching individuals how to challenge, confront, and ultimately change these unproductive behaviours and thoughts. The fusion of medication and CBT provides a comprehensive path toward recovery and well-being.  


Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is another therapeutic approach tailored for bipolar disorder. It focuses on stabilising the daily rhythms of individuals, like sleeping and eating, and addresses interpersonal problems that might trigger or exacerbate episodes.

Family-focused therapy can be pivotal, especially for younger patients or those living with their families. Educating families about the disorder and developing strategies to communicate and solve problems, strengthens the support system around the patient.

Pharmacological treatments

Addressing bipolar disorder typically involves a blend of medications tailored to suit individual requirements. Mood stabilisers serve as a cornerstone in this treatment regime. Lithium, a stalwart in the therapeutic world, has consistently shown its efficacy in warding off both manic and depressive bouts over the years. However, it’s essential to note that lithium can have repercussions on the kidneys and thyroid, making routine check-ups imperative.

For those who might not find solace in lithium, anticonvulsant drugs like valproate and lamotrigine emerge as alternative mood stabilisers, demonstrating considerable efficacy. Furthermore, individuals undergoing manic or mixed mood phases might benefit from antipsychotic medications. Prescriptions often include drugs such as olanzapine and risperidone. However, it’s important to be aware that these can be accompanied by side effects, including notable weight fluctuations and disruptions in metabolic functions.

For depressive phases of bipolar disorder, some individuals benefit from antidepressants. But there is a critical caution: these can sometimes trigger manic episodes, making it vital for physicians to monitor their use closely.

Above all, treatment considerations should prioritise the patient’s safety, emphasise the importance of medication adherence, and avoid substances that could exacerbate symptoms or interfere with other medications.

Lifestyle adjustments and complementary treatments

Managing bipolar disorder requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond medication and therapy. In addition to medical and therapeutic interventions, embracing specific lifestyle changes offers a robust strategy for optimising mental well-being. Prioritising regular sleep patterns is essential; a consistent sleep schedule can act as an anchor, helping to stabilise unpredictable mood swings. On the flip side, substances like alcohol and recreational drugs can be particularly detrimental. Their intake can amplify mood fluctuations, making episodes harder to manage and predict.

Physical activity, often underemphasised, is a robust ally in managing bipolar disorder. Engaging in regular exercise isn’t just about physical health; it serves as a natural mood booster. The endorphins released during physical activity can help alleviate depressive symptoms and foster mood regulation. 

In the fast-paced modern world, internal peace might seem elusive, but practices like meditation and mindfulness offer a refuge. These techniques teach individuals to remain present, cultivating a heightened awareness of their emotional and mental state. Such practices are not just relaxation tools; they are mechanisms to cope with and mitigate stress, a prevalent trigger for bipolar mood episodes. By actively incorporating these stress reduction techniques into daily routines, individuals can better equip themselves to handle mood fluctuations and maintain a balanced mental state over time.

Emerging treatments and research

The world of bipolar disorder treatment is continually evolving. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), once stigmatised, is making a resurgence as an effective treatment, especially for those who don’t respond to traditional methods. However, it is primarily used for severe manic or depressive episodes.

Ketamine, known more commonly as an anesthetic, is being researched as a potential rapid-acting treatment for bipolar depression. Though still emerging and not entirely mainstream, early findings are optimistic.


Dealing with bipolar disorder can be intricate and deeply personal, emphasising that each individual’s journey is distinct. While a specific treatment might be transformative for one, it may not resonate the same way for another. Yet, by melding the right medications, therapeutic interventions, and lifestyle adaptations, a beacon of hope shines brightly. Through thoughtful management and robust support systems, those living with bipolar disorder can carve out enriched and meaningful lives.

Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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