Do Antidepressants Help Bipolar Disorder?

By | December 2, 2007

Research from Harvard Medical School should rock the world of psychiatrists and neurologists who treat bipolar disorder.

It’s estimated that 5.7 million adults in the US have this condition. Further, 50% to 70% take antidepressants, often along with mood stabilizing drugs, to treat the manic mood swings that define the disorder. That’s three to four million people on antidepressants for bipolar disorder.

Now, along comes a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It concluded that antidepressants don’t help bipolar after all. The authors indicate that mood stabilizers alone are as effective as stabilizers taken with antidepressants.

Should we assume that physicians will now reduce the number of prescriptions for antidepressants when treating bipolar disorder? Don’t hold your breath. The lead author, Dr. Gary Sachs, was quoted in the LA Times as suggesting that if you are taking antidepressants and doing well, just keep taking them. The rationale? “There is no benefit from standard antidepressant medication,” he said, “but there is no risk to adding it, either.”

No risk to adding antidepressants? Unfortunately, the potential risks for many antidepressants range from suicide to cancer to weak bones and more. Dr. Sachs’ remark reflects the same cavalier attitude toward drug therapy as is often seen in conventional medicine. The bond between physicians, drugs, and pharmaceutical companies is so entrenched in our medical system that we have to exert an effort to rise above it. We need to constantly educate ourselves and sort out the truth when prescribed specific medications.

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