Most experts agree that medication is important in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Before the discovery of the first effective mood stabilizer, lithium, it was common for people with bipolar disorder to spend years of their lives in psychiatric hospitals. Manias and depressions, as described by pioneers like Emil Kraepelin, or in first-person accounts like that written by Clifford Beers, could last months and even years. Partially as a result of effective treatments, these types of long hospitalizations are rarely needed today. Mood episodes can be shortened, and their severity and frequency diminished, through the use of medication, especially when combined with therapy and relapse-prevention strategies.
Certain medications, such as lithium, have also been demonstrated to decrease the likelihood that a person with bipolar disorder will end his life by suicide.
These are compelling reasons to take medication, but what is more important to people has to do with getting back on track. It’s not all about the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but about functioning and having a life worth living, about moving forward and having successful relationships, meaningful work, and a rich social and spiritual life. Medications, either as single agents or in the combination that works best for an individual and his symptoms, can be powerful tools in that person’s recovery.