Medications for Mood Disorders: A Complete Guide
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Medications for Mood Disorders: A Complete Guide



The National Institute of Mental Health states that 9.7 percent of adults in the United States have dealt with a mood disorder at some point in the past year.


A mood disorder is any type of mental illness that primarily affects a person’s mood or emotional state. People with mood disorders often experience mood swings and alternating episodes of mania (extremely high energy levels) and depression.


Many people who struggle with mood disorders can benefit from mood-stabilizing medication. Answered below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding mood disorders, mental health, and how medication can affect symptoms and quality of life.



Table of Contents

(click on a question to be directed quickly)

What is the best medicine for a mood disorder?
Does medication help Bipolar Disorder?
Does Bipolar Disorder require medication?
How does Lithium affect people that do not have Bipolar Disorder?
What natural supplements can be used to treat Bipolar Disorder?
What medications are used for Dysthymic Disorder?
What medications are best for Major Depressive Disorder?






What Is the Best Medicine for a Mood Disorder?


There are many different types of medications used to treat mood disorders, as well as common mood disorder symptoms like mania and depression. The following are some of the most frequently used varieties:


  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are prescribed to address chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly imbalances in the neurotransmitter serotonin. A recent study suggests serotonin plays an important role in mood stabilization.
  • Mood Stabilizers: Mood stabilizing medications help to balance out neurotransmitter levels and prevent the dramatic high and low moods that people with bipolar disorder and other mood disorders experience.
  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotics may be prescribed to treat depression, particularly in those for whom antidepressants are not effective.



Does Medication Help Bipolar Disorder?


Medication can be very useful in the treatment of bipolar disorder. A mood stabilizer is a particularly popular type of medication for bipolar disorder.


Listed below are some frequently prescribed mood stabilizers:


  • Valproic Acid (Brand name Valproic): Valproic acid is an anticonvulsant drug used to treat seizure disorders. It also helps to prevent migraines and stabilize mood in people with bipolar disorder.
  • Lamotrigine (Brand name Lamictal): Lamotrigine is another anticonvulsant drug that treats seizure disorders as well as bipolar disorder.
  • Carbamazepine (Brand name Tegretol): In addition to being used to treat seizure disorders, carbamazepine can address symptoms of bipolar disorder and may be prescribed to those with persistent nerve pain.
  • Lithium (Brand names Eskalith, and Lithobid): Lithium is a type of psychiatric medication primarily used to treat bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. It is best known for reducing the risk of suicide in people with these conditions.



With the exception of lithium, all of the medications listed above are also anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsants can be useful for those with mood disorders because they ​​slow down the abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that may cause seizures and may also contribute to mood swings.




Does Bipolar Disorder Require Medication?


Medication can certainly be used to treat bipolar disorder. However, it is not the only option for addressing symptoms of mania and depression.


In addition to or instead of relying on medication, the following can also be beneficial for treating bipolar disorder:


  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy utilizes a variety of techniques designed to help people with bipolar disorder manage their moods, control impulses, learn healthy coping skills, and learn how to communicate their needs appropriately.
  • Brain Stimulation Therapy: Brain stimulation therapy uses targeted electrical currents to change one’s brain chemistry and reverse symptoms of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. According to this report from, it has been used for more than 25 years.




How Does Lithium Affect People That Do Not Have Bipolar Disorder?


Prescribing medication, including Lithium, is common for medical professionals treating bipolar disorder. It’s always important to talk to your doctor and get screened for bipolar disorder (and other mood disorders/mental health conditions) before you begin taking lithium.


For those who do not have bipolar disorder, lithium may produce some problematic effects, including the following named by the National Alliance on Mental Illness:


  • Hand tremors
  • Increase in thirst
  • Increase in urination
  • Diarrhea/vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Acne
  • Hair loss


Lithium can also build up in the body and cause problems with the kidneys and thyroid. This is why regular blood tests are required for people who take Lithium long-term.



Mood Disorder Treatment



What Natural Supplements Can Be Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder?


For those who are worried about the short- and long-term side effects of mood-stabilizing medications, natural supplements might be more appropriate. The following are some of the most effective natural remedies for bipolar disorder:





What Medications Are Used for Dysthymic Disorder?


Also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD for short), dysthymic disorder is a mood disorder that affects adults, children, and adolescents.


For an adult to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, they must experience a depressed mood most of the day for at least two years. For a child to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, they must experience a depressed mood or irritability that occurs most of the day for at least one year.


Medication, including those listed below, can be used to manage symptoms of dysthymic disorder:


  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These medications increase the availability of serotonin in the brain, which helps to improve mood.
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): These medications increase the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone, and can be more effective than SSRIs for some people with PDD.
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants work by increasing levels of norepinephrine and serotonin while also blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.




What Medications Are Best for Major Depressive Disorder?


Although the name sounds similar, major depressive disorder (or MDD) is a distinct type of depression separate from persistent depressive disorder (dysthymic disorder).


Major depressive disorder is more common than persistent depressive disorder, affecting 7.8 percent of adults (according to the National Institute of Mental Health) compared to the 1.5 percent affected by PDD (also according to a report from the National Institute of Mental Health).


The primary difference between MDD and PDD is the duration of one’s symptoms. To be diagnosed with PDD, one must have symptoms for at least two years. To be diagnosed with MDD, one must have at least two depressive episodes that are separated by periods of at least two months.


As is the case with PDD, medications can be used to curb the symptoms of MDD. In addition to SSRIs and SNRIs, which can be very useful in treating MDD, doctors and psychiatrists may also recommend the following:


  • Bupropion (Brand name Wellbutrin): This is an antidepressant often recommended for children. It’s also used to help adults quit smoking.
  • Mirtazapine (Brand name Remeron): Also known as an atypical antidepressant, this drug is often prescribed to those with MDD.







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Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis. Nutrients8(1), 56.


National Alliance on Mental Illness (2021). Lithium.


National Institute of Mental Health


National Institute of Mental Health (2021). Major Depression.


National Institute of Mental Health. Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymic Disorder).


Qureshi, N. A., & Al-Bedah, A. M. (2013). Mood disorders and complementary and alternative medicine: a literature review. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment9, 639.


Sarris, J., Mischoulon, D., & Schweitzer, I. (2011). Adjunctive nutraceuticals with standard pharmacotherapies in bipolar disorder: a systematic review of clinical trials. Bipolar disorders13(5‐6), 454-465.


Sarris, J., Mischoulon, D., & Schweitzer, I. (2011). Omega-3 for bipolar disorder: meta-analyses of use in mania and bipolar depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry72(1), 0-0.


Stoll, A. L., Sachs, G. S., Cohen, B. M., Lafer, B., Christensen, J. D., & Renshaw, P. F. (1996). Choline in the treatment of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: clinical and neurochemical findings in lithium-treated patients. Biological Psychiatry40(5), 382-388.





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives. We do this through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. Inspired by this, we write content for your own education. Also, our content is researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals.  However, the information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Additionally, it should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.






Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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