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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.

Why might I be offered a mood stabiliser?

The decision to offer you a mood stabiliser is likely to depend on:

  • your diagnosis and the symptoms you experience
  • your past experiences of taking medication, including what's worked for you and what hasn't. For example, if you've tried lithium and had lots of problems with it, you may be offered a different mood stabiliser instead
  • your medical circumstances. For example, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a history of kidney or thyroid problems
  • what you want from your treatment. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem and advocacy for information on having your say in decisions about your treatment, and making yourself heard.

Who can prescribe mood stabilisers?

There are a few different healthcare professionals who can prescribe mood stabilisers to you. It may depend on which type of mood stabiliser you are being offered. It may also depend on whether you are just starting to take it or being given ongoing prescriptions.

The person who prescribes it may be your doctor (GP). Or it could be another specialist healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist. These information pages usually refer to 'your doctor' prescribing this medication. 

Before you take any medication

Before you decide to take any medication, you should make sure you have all the facts you need to feel confident about your decision. For guidance on the basic information you might want to know about any drug before you take it, see our pages on:

Which mood stabiliser is right for me?

Different mood stabilisers can be offered to treat different types of mental health problem:

  • lithium is most likely to be offered as a long-term treatment for bipolar disorder. It is also sometimes also used as a short-term treatment for mania.
  • valproate (Depakote, Epilim) may be prescribed to treat mania if you haven't responded well to lithium. But you should not be prescribed it if you are pregnant or could become pregnant. See our page on taking mood stabilisers during pregnancy or breastfeeding to find out more.
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol) is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat episodes of mania and mixed states.
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal) has antidepressant effects and is licensed to treat severe depression in bipolar disorder.
  • the antipsychotic drugs haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone may be offered as mood stabilisers, as part of the treatment of bipolar disorder. The antipsychotic asenapine is also offered as a mood stabiliser, to treat mania.

I have a form of bipolar which cycles very quickly, but I'm not psychotic. I was prescribed valproate in a controlled release tablet… It's changed my life.

Will I need to take other medication as well as a mood stabiliser?

A combination of a mood stabiliser and another drug might be the best way to manage your symptoms. This depends on your diagnosis and the problems you experience. The other kinds of medication that you may be offered include:

See our pages on treatments for bipolar disordertreatments for mania and hypomania, and treatments for depression to find out more about other treatments you may be offered alongside mood stabilisers.

Could a mood stabiliser make me feel worse?

It's important to remember that all drugs can affect people differently.

Although many people find that the benefits of taking a mood stabiliser outweigh the negatives, not everybody does. Your experience will be personal to you. For ideas to help manage your mood without drugs, see our page on alternatives to mood stabilisers.

Mood stabilisers also have the potential to cause unwanted side effects. They may also cause withdrawal effects if you choose to stop taking them.

See our pages on lithium, valproate, carbamazepine, lamotrigine and our A-Z list of antipsychotic drugs. These pages have links to information about the side effects and withdrawal effects of these drugs.

I have a total distrust of mood stabilisers ... I can't be doing with the side effects – they flatten my personality and prevent me doing the creative things I love.

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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