If you’re bipolar, you’ve probably heard about lithium. Your psychiatrist might have even tried to put you on it if you’re not already. So what is lithium, besides a miracle that is?
Well, it’s a metal that we ingest as a non-toxic salt. What it effects in the brain is well documented, but why it works still leaves scientists baffled. What we do know is that it stabilizes mood, and it does a great job at doing so. Lithium is known as the gold standard for a reason.
Now there are many mood stabilizers out there, so I want to get into what makes lithium different. What is its profile?
I’m going to start with its absolute most important aspect to me: lithium is the only mood stabilizer proven to reduce the risk of suicide and decreases suicidal behavior. If suicidal ideation is a problem for you, or even worse, if you’ve attempted suicide, then lithium can be a great asset to you.
Lithium does more than reduce the risk of suicide. It likewise treats depression and helps prevent future episodes of depression. While on lithium, depressions tend to be less severe and of shorter duration than without any medication.
But lithium is a much better antimanic drug than antidepressant. Lithium treats and prevents mania with greater efficiency than depression. But this efficiency actually helps both sides of the coin anyway. One episode typically leads into the next, so if you can stop or weaken one episode, you treat the following episode at the same time.
Now lithium works differently on those who take it. Specifically, some people are what we call lithium-responders. Lithium has a very strong effect on these people, and typically, they won’t need any other drugs to treat their condition.
Now these lithium-responders tend to have a certain profile. They tend to experience euphoric manias instead of dysphoric ones. They tend to experience a manic episode followed by a depressive episode. And they tend to only experience two episodes back to back at a time.
I’m not a lithium-responder, but I would, nonetheless, give my highest recommendation for lithium to anyone in need of a mood stabilizer.
The efficiency of lithium is tied to blood levels. Typically doctors will try to have you on the lowest dose possible, which would be right at 0.6 mmol/L. I’ve found from my research and personal experience that 0.8 mmol/L is more effective with minimal increased side effects.
Speaking of which, of course, there are side effects that go along with using lithium. By far, lithium has the most side effects of all my medication, and the potential side effects are so much that I can’t list them all. Instead, here is a link that gives the most up-to-date known side effects of lithium: https://www.drugs.com/sfx/lithium-side-effects.html
It is my hope that you’ll give lithium a try. It’s worth it.