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Lithium and other mood stabilisers

Explains how lithium and other mood stabilising drugs work, how they might help you, whether to take them if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, and what alternative treatments are available.

Are there any alternatives to mood stabilisers?

Managing a condition like bipolar disorder without mood stabilisers can be challenging. But medication isn't right for everyone. You might find that you want to explore other ways to manage your mood. This could be alongside taking medication, or instead of it.

These are some of the common alternatives to taking mood stabilisers:

Talking therapies

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for bipolar disorder recommend the following kinds of talking therapy for managing bipolar disorder:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This looks at how your feelings, thoughts and behaviour influence each other, and how you can change them. See our pages on CBT for more information.
  • Interpersonal therapy. This focuses on your relationships with other people. It looks at how your thoughts, feelings and behaviour are affected by your relationships, and how they affect your relationships.
  • Behavioural couples therapy. This focuses on recognising and trying to resolve the emotional problems that can happen between partners.
  • Family intervention. This involves talking therapy between the person experiencing mental health problems and their family members. See our page on treatments for schizophrenia for more information.

I'd taken mood stabilisers for many years and they just stopped me feeling anything. That's not the way forward [for me]. I have been off them for some years now and with the help of a therapist I'm having to learn to feel again!

Keep a mood diary

You could try keeping a diary of how you feel from day to day, to help spot patterns in your mood swings over time. This could help you learn how to avoid situations which you know might trigger an episode of depression or mania in future.

See our page of useful contacts for links to mood diaries online.

Try peer support 

Peer support allows you to make connections with people who have similar or shared experiences to yours. If you’d like to try peer support, you could:

See our pages on peer support for more information.

Look after your physical health

  • Get enough sleep. For lots of people with bipolar disorder, disturbed sleep can be both a trigger and a symptom of episodes. Getting enough sleep can help you keep your mood stable or shorten an episode. See our pages on sleep problems for more information.
  • Think about what you eat and drink. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can help you feel well, think clearly and calm your mood. See our pages on food and mood for more tips. If you have a difficult relationship with food and eating, our pages on eating problems may help.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help by using up energy when you’re feeling high and releasing endorphins ('feel-good' chemicals in the brain) when you’re feeling low. Gentle exercise, like yoga or swimming, can also help you relax and manage stress. See our pages on physical activity and your mental health for more information.

This information was published in June 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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