It is a common question amongst bipolar sufferers and their loved ones. What are non medication treatments for depression in bipolar? Are there any? Popular belief is that bipolar disorder can only be controlled by a lifetime regime of strong medication.
The answer to the question is a resounding yes. Several non-medication approaches have now been shown to be of benefit when added to the conventional medications for depression in bipolar. Mood stabilizer tactics and therapies are now emerging and being slowly embraced by some mental health practitioners. Regulating daily schedules and patterns of sleep, using light therapy and implementing regular exercise programs are now included as treatments for some bipolar patients.
Maintaining a regular daily schedule.
One approach that is crucial for some patients with bipolar disorder is to maintain a regular daily schedule, especially regular patterns of sleep. One such therapy is organized around the daily schedule idea, in particular having a regular time to go to sleep, and a regular time to wake up and get out of bed.
A recent study in Canada showed that approximately 100 patients with winter affective depression were randomly assigned to Prozac or a standard light box. There was equal improvement in both groups, with the light box marginally faster in lowering depression scores. This means that the light therapy is as good as the standard antidepressant approach, but has fewer side effects and less overall risk.
If you're not familiar with light therapy, basically one sits in front of a box the size of a small suitcase (smaller ones now available) which emits a lot of light, for about 30 minutes to start, and as little as 15 minutes or less later to stay well through the winter.
The data showing that exercise can actually treat depression has been pretty good for a long while. It is well documented that depression can cause brain shrinkage, and that effective treatments can stop and at least partially reverse that shrinkage. A recent study research team at the University of Illinois compared people with an average age of 67 who were physically active to those who were less active.
The results showed that the active elders had better mental skills and memory, and even that their brains were more active as well. They then did the crucial follow-up test: they divided a group of elders into two groups, one which participated in an aerobic exercise program, and one which did not. They have found that the group which exercised increased their brain size compared to the sedentary control group, in the brain regions which are known to shrink when people have mood problems. Extrapolating just slightly from these results, we now have preliminary evidence that exercise, like other effective antidepressants, can reverse brain shrinkage.
Although it may be difficult for a depressed person to think about exercising, even a regular walk can have the desired effect. Most people, however depressed, can still walk. Walking has the absolute best record for easy access. The Harvard Bipolar Program leader, Dr. Sachs, says "here's your exercise program: go to the door, look at your watch. Walk 7.5 minutes in any direction, then turn around and walk home. Do that 5 days a week at least." And that's it.
Specialized Psychotherapies For Bipolar.
In April 2007 a major research program published their results showing that when the three psychotherapies listed below were added to mood stabilizer treatment for bipolar patients experiencing significant depression, the patients recovered more quickly and more were likely to stay well.
o Bipolar-specific cognitive behavioral therapy
o Interpersonal therapy with social rhythm therapy
o Family-focused therapy (for patients with family who could join in treatment)
The problem is finding a therapist who can provide one of these treatments. Currently, these psychotherapies are primarily found in large treatment programs that have adopted one or more of the new methods. For those interested in sourcing a sympathetic therapist, the internet is a good place to start.
There is no doubt that the non medication treatments for depression in bipolar are making a difference to the quality of life for some bipolar sufferers. They are able to wean off high doses of antidepressants, and also benefit from the positive side effects of good sleep patterns, exercise and light therapy.
References: Excerpts from information provided by Jim Phelps MD at www.PsychEducation.org. (Quality Mental Health Information On Specific Topics)