Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Authored by Hugh Soames

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Philippa Gold

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Treatment for Bipolar Disorder


Previously referred to as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition. On average, 2.8% of the population have been diagnosed with this disorder, with 83% of the cases being severe.


This disorder is characterized by dramatic mood, energy, and activity level shifts. As such, it is regularly misdiagnosed as a borderline personality disorder (BPD) or schizophrenia11.J. R. Geddes and D. J. Miklowitz, Treatment of bipolar disorder – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from


Bipolar disorder diagnosis


To diagnose bipolar disorder, medical professionals use a variety of evaluation tools including:


  • A physical exam


This exam usually uses lab tests to figure out the medical condition causing your symptoms.


  • Mood charting


To help with the diagnosis of your condition, your doctor may ask you to keep a record of your sleep patterns, moods, and other factors.


  • Psychiatric assessment


Another effective diagnostic tool is a psychiatrist assessment. This is usually conducted by a psychiatrist. During the assessment, they will talk to you about your behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Beyond this, your psychiatrist may require you to fill a questionnaire/ psychological self-assessment. With your permission, they can even go as far as asking your close friends and family members about your symptoms.


  • Comparing with bipolar disorder criteria


Another way that your psychiatrist can diagnose you is by comparing your symptoms with those of bipolar and other related disorders as described by the APA’s DSM-5.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment


Since BPD is a lifelong condition, all treatment for Bipolar Disorder approaches (medication/therapy) is aimed at managing the condition. Treatments for Bipolar Disorder include:


Medication Treatment for Bipolar Disorder


Usually, your doctor will put you on medication as soon as you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Generally, the type and dose of medication you are put on depend on your specific symptoms.


Prescribed medications usually include:


  • Mood stabilizers – these medications are usually prescribed to control the manic and hypomanic episodes related to bipolar disorder. These medications include carbamazepine and lithium


  • Anti-anxiety medication – since people with bipolar disorder have periods of anxiety and irritability, they are sometimes temporarily prescribed anti-anxiety meds like benzodiazepines. These usually help them sleep better


  • Antidepressants – sometimes your doctor can prescribe you an antidepressant to help you deal with bipolar-related depression. This should be done carefully – these meds can trigger a manic episode


  • Antipsychotics – these meds are usually prescribed when symptoms of depression and mania persist even when treated with other medications. They include lurasidone, ziprasidone, and risperidone


  • Antidepressant-antipsychotic – one of the most popular medications in this category is Symbax. It combines the antipsychotic powers of olanzapine and the antidepressant qualities of fluoxetine


No matter which type of meds your doctor puts you on though, there are some things you should keep in mind. For instance, finding the right meds for you is a process that generally relies on trial and error. So you’ll have to be patient as you and your doctor explore the different types of meds available – your side effects will become milder as you get closer to the right ones.


Whatever you do though, don’t stop using your meds – this can make you trigger a manic/hypomanic episode or make you depressed/suicidal.

Psychotherapy Treatment for Bipolar Disorder


Apart from getting you on medication, your psychiatrist will also recommend psychotherapy to help with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some of the most effective  types of therapy for this condition include:


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – this type of therapy can help you identify what usually triggers your manic episodes and learn how to cope with these triggers healthily


  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy – this type of therapy focuses on stabilizing your daily routine. This will eventually help you manage your mood better


  • Family-focused therapy – this ensures that your family can adequately support you to stick to your treatment plan. It helps your family recognize warning signs of your manic episodes and know how to handle them


  • Psychoeducation – by learning more about bipolar disorder, you and your loved ones can be in a better position to cope


Other options for Bipolar Treatment


Beyond psychotherapy and medication, there are also other ways to treat bipolar disorder. These include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The former involves intentionally passing electric currents through the brain, triggering a seizure.


This can change the brain’s chemistry and reverse the symptoms of some mental illnesses. This is a particularly great option for people whose bipolar medication isn’t working or who can’t take antidepressants because of health reasons22.M. W. Jann, Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders in Adults: A Review of the Evidence on Pharmacologic Treatments – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from Interestingly transcranial magnetic stimulation is also being considered as a viable option for those who can’t take antidepressants.

Coping strategies


Apart from seeking treatment for Bipolar Disorder, there are other ways you can learn to cope with BPD.


Some tips include:


  • Stay focused on your goals and recovery
  • Find new ways to relax and destress – consider taking up yoga, meditation, massage therapy, or tai chi
  • Channel your energy into healthy outlets like hobbies and exercise
  • Join a support group for people with bipolar disorder so that you can get support from people with similar experiences



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Next: Bipolar Disorder

  • 1
    1.J. R. Geddes and D. J. Miklowitz, Treatment of bipolar disorder – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from
  • 2
    2.M. W. Jann, Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders in Adults: A Review of the Evidence on Pharmacologic Treatments – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from
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