The use of traditional antidepressants to treat bipolardepression is considered experimental, and none are FDA-approved for that purpose. There is no research to show that they have any greater benefit than taking a mood stabilizer (such as lithium or Depakote) alone. Many of the existing studies of their efficacy have focussed mainly on people with unipolar rather than bipolar disorder.
Using antidepressant medication alone to treat a depressive episode is not recommended. The drugs may flip a person, particularly a person with bipolar I disorder, into a manic or hypomanic episode. Hypomania is a more subdued version of mania. Using antidepressants alone also may lead to or worsen rapid cycling in some bipolar patients. In rapid cycling, a person has 4 or more distinct episodes of mania/hypomania or depression over a 1-year period. And while they may "recover" more quickly from depression, they may be more prone to experience a relapse or the next phase of illness sooner and more often than people without rapid cycling.
If you have bipolar disorder, no one needs to tell you how challenging this mental illness can be. You are among millions of American adults who may also find that the mood episodes of bipolar disorder can be very disruptive at work. Take heart. There are many steps you can take to find meaningful work and develop successful relationships on -- and off -- the job.
Nevertheless, there are many different types of antidepressants used to treat depression in people with bipolar disorder. With antidepressants, it typically takes three to four weeks for people to respond to treatment. Sometimes a doctor will try several different medicines before finding one that works for a patient. These medications include SSRIs such as Zoloft or Prozac, SNRIs such as Effexor, and novel antidepressants such as Wellbutrin.
Note: The FDA has determined that antidepressant medications can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with depression and other psychiatric disorders. If you have questions or concerns, discuss them with your health care provider.