Most people with manic-depressive illness can be helped with treatment.

  • Almost all people with bipolar disorder–even those with the most severe forms–can obtain substantial stabilization of their mood swings.
  • One medication, lithium, is usually very effective in controlling mania and preventing the recurrence of both manic and depressive episodes.
  • Most recently, the mood stabilizing anticonvulsants carbamazepine and valproate have also been found useful, especially in more refractory bipolar episodes. Often these medications are combined with lithium for maximum effect.
  • Some scientists have theorized that the anticonvulsant medications work because they have an effect on kindling, a process in which the brain becomes increasingly sensitive to stress and eventually begins to show episodes of abnormal activity even in the absence of a stressor. It is thought that lithium acts to block the early stages of this kindling process and that carbamazepine and valproate act later.
  • Children and adolescents with bipolar disorder are generally treated with lithium, but carbamazepine and valproate are also used.
  • Valproate has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of acute mania.
  • The high potency benzodiazepines clonazepam and lorazepam may be helpful adjuncts for insomnia.
  • Thyroid augmentation may also be of value.
  • For depression, several types of antidepressants can be useful when combined with lithium, carbamazepine, or valproate.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is often helpful in the treatment of severe depression and/or mixed mania that does not respond to medications.
  • As an adjunct to medications, psychotherapy is often helpful in providing support, education, and guidance to the patient and his or her family.
  • Constructing a life chart of mood symptoms, medications, and life events may help the health care professional to treat the illness optimally.
  • Because manic-depressive illness is recurrent, long-term preventive (prophylactic) treatment is highly recommended and almost always indicated.

For Further Information Please Contact:

National Institute of Mental Health

Information Resources and Inquiries Branch
6001 Executive Boulevard
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Telephone: 301-443-4513
FAX: 301-443-4279
TTY: 301-443-8431
FAX4U: 301-443-5158

National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association

730 Franklin Street, Suite 501
Chicago, IL 60610
Telephone: 312-642-0049; 1-800-826-3632
FAX: 312-642-7243
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Colonial Place Three
2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
Telephone: 703-524-7600; 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
FAX: 703-524-9094

National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc.

P.O. Box 2257
New York, NY 10116
Telephone: 212-268-4260; 1-800-239-1265
FAX: 212-268-4434
National Mental Health Association
1021 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-2971
Telephone: 703-684-7722; 1-800-969-NMHA (6642)
FAX: 703-684-5968
TTY: 1-800-433-5959