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Patients with bipolar disorder more frequently suffer from depression than from mania. Indeed depressive symptomatology represents the majority of the illness burden experienced by bipolar patients and is also associated with elevated suicide risk. The treatment of bipolar depression differs from that of recurrent major depression in that the efficacy of conventional antidepressant drugs is not well-established. Some evidence-based treatments for bipolar depression are available and include the anticonvulsant drug, lamotrigine, and the atypical antipsychotic, quetiapine. Lithium also has some benefits in the prevention of depression and its use is associated with a significant reduction in suicidal behaviour. Several other treatments are in clinical development including dopamine agonists, glutamatergic modulating drugs and antioxidants. The role of these interventions in management is uncertain. The clinical uncertainties in the pharmacological treatment of bipolar depression mean that treatment has to be individualised and empirical; there is also an important role for psychological therapies, which again need to be tailored to suit the needs of the individual patient and their family.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Top Behav Neurosci

Publication Date





291 - 307