How depression drugs could help treat bipolar disorder

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Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes people’s moods to swing wildly between two extremes: highs and lows.

When someone with bipolar disorder is on a high, they might feel incredibly excited or full of energy. But when they’re on a low, they can feel extremely sad and hopeless.

During these low periods, they may lose interest in things they usually enjoy, struggle to sleep, change their eating habits, or even have thoughts of ending their own life.

Treating bipolar disorder is a real challenge. Dr. Lakshmi Yatham, who led a groundbreaking study at the University of British Columbia, explains that dealing with the depressive episodes in bipolar disorder can be especially tough.

These episodes not only affect the individuals themselves but also take a toll on their families.

Finding ways to prevent these depressive episodes from coming back is crucial because it can bring stability to patients’ lives and allow them to return to their cherished activities.

The Dilemma of Bipolar Treatment

Doctors often treat depressive episodes in bipolar disorder using a combination of medications: antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and other drugs.

However, there’s an ongoing debate about how long this treatment should last. Some worry that antidepressants might actually increase the frequency and severity of mood swings.

Current guidelines from Canadian and international health organizations suggest stopping antidepressant treatment about eight weeks after the depression lifts.

But Dr. Yatham points out that this area hasn’t been studied extensively, and medical professionals don’t agree on the best approach. In fact, some research indicates that up to 80% of patients continue taking antidepressants for six months or more.

A Fresh Perspective on Antidepressant Treatment

In a groundbreaking global clinical trial conducted in Canada, South Korea, and India, researchers sought to determine whether extending the use of antidepressants in bipolar disorder treatment could help prevent depressive episodes from recurring.

The study involved 178 patients with bipolar disorder who were no longer experiencing a depressive episode after receiving treatment with modern antidepressants.

Half of these patients continued taking their antidepressants for a year, while the other half gradually stopped their antidepressants over six weeks and switched to a placebo.

The results were eye-opening. In the placebo group, 46% of the patients experienced a mood episode over the year.

In contrast, only 31% of the patients who continued taking the antidepressants had a mood episode return.

When researchers analyzed the period from week six onwards, they discovered that patients who stuck with the antidepressants were 40% less likely to have a mood episode return and 59% less likely to experience a depressive episode.

Importantly, there wasn’t a significant difference in the number of manic episodes or side effects between the two groups.

Why This Study Matters

People with bipolar disorder tend to suffer from depressive symptoms three times more frequently than manic symptoms. Studies have shown that they are far more likely to attempt suicide or die by suicide during a depressive episode rather than a manic one.

Dr. Yatham emphasized that stabilizing patients and preventing relapse can quite literally save lives.

He anticipates that future revisions of bipolar disorder treatment guidelines will incorporate the evidence from this study, leading to changes in clinical practice regarding the use of antidepressants in managing patients with bipolar disorder.

If you care about depression, please read studies that vegetarian diet may increase your depression risk, and Vitamin D could help reduce depression symptoms.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.

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