Managing bipolar disorder without medication

Bipolar disorder is a diagnosis given to people who experience periods of intense low mood but also periods of elation and increased energy which can lead to impaired judgement and risky behaviour. The Royal College of Psychiatrists estimates that around 1% of the adult population experience bipolar symptoms at some point in their life.

UK guidance for the treatment of bipolar disorder has an emphasis on medication. However, more than 60% of people with the diagnosis stop taking their medicationat some point. This is often because of the common and severe and unpleasant side effects that drugs such as lithium and olanzapine can produce. These include dizziness, diarrhoea, slowed movement and substantial weight gain.

A recent review also suggested that medication only helps a small proportion of those it is prescribed to. The review looked at 12 different medication regimes used under several different circumstances and found the highest success rate was just 33%.

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