What is bipolar mood disorder?

What treatment is available?

Page last updated: May 2007

Effective treatments are available for bipolar mood disorder. Education about the illness and learning to recognise early warning signs of an episode and how to take preventive action is important. Peer support can be particularly helpful in this way.

Specific medications help to manage mood swings.

For the depressive phase of this illness, anti-depressant medications can relieve depressed feelings, restore normal sleep patterns and appetite, and reduce anxiety.

Anti-depressant medications are not addictive. They slowly return the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, taking one to four weeks to achieve their positive effects.

During acute or severe episodes of mania, several different medications are used. Some are used to calm the person's manic excitement; others help stabilise the person's mood.

Some medications are also used as preventive measures as they help to control mood swings and reduce the frequency and severity of depressive and manic phases. Longterm medication may be required to prevent recurrent episodes.

Lifestyle changes, such as physical exercise and reducing harmful alcohol and other drug use and other triggers of episodes, can assist people to recover.

Psychological interventions can be an important component of treatment. Therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are aimed at changing patterns of thinking, behaviours, and beliefs that contribute to the illness.

Interpersonal therapies help people to learn new ways to relate to important people in their lives.

When people are in a manic episode, it can be difficult to persuade them that they need treatment. It is sometimes necessary for a person to be hospitalised if symptoms are severe.

Many people are never hospitalised and their health care is delivered entirely in the community.

With access to appropriate treatment and support, people with bipolar mood disorder live full and productive lives.

The family and friends of people with bipolar mood disorder can often feel confused and distressed. Support and education, as well as better community understanding, are an important part of treatment.