Alternative Treatment for Bipolar Disorder?

It is past twenty years now since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness), and to be honest with you, I have always been treated conventionally. My treatment plan has consisted of regular visits to my psychiatrist, medication, visits from a case manager, supportive psychotherapy when needed, hospitalization when necessary, and on one occasion electroshock (ECT) treatments.

I had watched my mom suffer with Manic Depression at a time when no treatment was available, other than ECT and heavy brain numbing anti-psychotic medication. Even though she remained at home she had no real life. The discovery of lithium and anti-depressant medication gave me hope…and it was a hope I clung to. Though not perfect, the treatment gave me periods of normalcy I had never seen in my mother. I wasn't about to go trying anything new!

In recent years there has been more and more discussion among the bipolar population about alternative treatment methods. Many are unhappy with the medication side effects they must endure - the fatigue, memory loss, weight gain and other effects combine to make the individual frustrated with following the treatment prescribed by their doctor. Many others are simply against putting "chemicals" into their body, regardless of how they improve their condition.

The book "Prozac Free" written by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman, explains the use of homeopathic medicine in the treatment depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional problems. For regular depression they promise a way to throw away the antidepressant medication and live free of the sadness, and gloom of prescription medication, thus eliminating their side effects.

The book also clearly states that in the case of more severe mental illnesses (bipolar affective disorder was specified), that alternative medicine must be used in combination with conservative treatment. Patients symptoms may be alleviated by alternative medicine, they may feel better, but may never be able to stop taking the lithium or other mood stabilizer they need. Drug interactions can also occur. The authors recommend consultation with both a homeopathic practitioner and the patient's own psychiatrist.

The question of whether to change to alternative medicine was posed to  Mental Health Info's Ask the Expert    Please read the reply by clicking on the link.

It appears at this time that alternative treatment for Bipolar Disorder is not really "alternative," but more an adjunctive therapy for those who wish to reduce psychiatric drugs to a minimum. Alternative treatment is not a panacea or a cure, any more than the conventional medications and treatments used today.

In my search for further information about the practice and use of alternative medicine I found some very interesting web sites.  Homeopathic Medicine , an overview of the topic, what it is, how it works and how it helps can be found at:

Or visit the  National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for issues, FAQs, and a way to search Medline for more alternative information.

An excellent article titled Alternative Approaches to the Treatment of Manic-Depression can be found at Pendulum Resources.  This article gives an excellent overview of the alternatives available in the treatment for bipolar but also reiterates the urge for caution in assuming that alternative therapy can be used as an entire approach to treating the disorder.

After reading many articles and a couple of books about alternative treatments I find myself curious, but still not convinced of their value in the treatment of bipolar disorder. I have ready many case studies and much documentation that they may help in depression, anxiety and other emotional disorders, but not solid evidence that the alternate treatments do better than conventional treatment for those individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I would advise caution, and working closely with your psychiatrist in any plan to stop conventional treatment, at any time…whether to go to an alternative option or to no treatment at all.

Another form of alternative therapy that has circulated widely among those with the disorder is the use of herbs and natural medicines, such as St John's Wort, 5-HTP, SAM-e, Inositol, Gingko Biloba and others. To read about and gain a general understanding of these natural medicines you might enjoy a visit to

Alternative medicine is a huge area of interest with many forms of it having been practiced for 200 years or more. I can not do justice to it in one short article, but have attempted to ferret out the information of most interest to those with Bipolar Disorder.

Once again, do not take the presence of this article in my topic pages as an indication that I consider alternative medicine an optional treatment to conventional treatment. I do not. I am willing to concede however, that may play an adjunctive role for those who choose to try it - WITH the advice and support of their own doctor.

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