Mood stabilizers are psychiatric medications that help control swings between depression and mania. They are prescribed to restore neurochemical balance by decreasing brain activity. Mood stabilizer drugs are commonly used to treat people with Bipolar Disorder and often times people with Schizoaffective Disorder. In some circumstances they are commonly used to supplement other medications, such as antidepressants or given for severe irritability, anger reduction, anxiety, impulsivity or attempts at self-harm with borderline personality disorder. Mood stabilizers work in the brain to help modulate extreme emotions and mood problems.
Examples of Mood stabilizers are broken down into Mineral salts, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics (discussed elsewhere)
Lithium is an element (salt, Li++) that occurs naturally. Lithium is not a manufactured pharmaceutical and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1970. It is still considered the “gold standard” medicine for florid mania. It is FDA approved for the treatment of bipolar mania and the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder. Sometimes Lithium can be used in combination with other medications to treat bipolar depression. One drawback to lithium is periodic bloodwork to monitor kidney function.
Commercial brand names for lithium include:
Anticonvulsant medications were originally developed to treat seizures, hence they are also known as antieplileptics. Anticonvulsants that are commonly used as mood stabilizers include:
- valproic acid, also called valproate or divalproex sodium (Depakote, Depakene) (require routine bloodwork)
- lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- carbamazepine (Tegretol)
Some anticonvulsants that are used off label and are not officially approved as mood stabilizers, include:
- oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
- gabapentin (Neurontin)
- topiramate (Topamax)
It is important to note that not all of these drugs have the same effects. There is no “one size fits all.” For example lithium is exceptional at treating mania while others such as lamotrigine are preferred for depression. Keep in mind that the term mood stabilizer can often be misleading. If you take one, your mood can still change throughout the course of a day. These medicines treat full episodes of mania or depression that last for several days or weeks at a time. They take away the super “high highs” or super “low lows” but there will still be a range of emotion.