Patients with bipolar disorder spend more time in a depressed than manic state, even with individualized treatment. To date, bipolar depression is often misdiagnosed and ineffectively managed both for acute episodes and residual symptoms. This review attempts to summarize the current status of available treatment strategies in the treatment of bipolar depression. For acute and prophylactic treatment, a substantial body of evidence supports the antidepressive efficacy of lithium for bipolar disorders and its antisuicidal effects. Among numerous anticonvulsants with mood-stabilizing properties, valproate and lamotrigine could be first-line options for bipolar depression. Due to receptor profile, mood-stabilizing properties of second-generation antipsychotics have been explored, and up to date, quetiapine and olanzapine appear to be a reasonable option for bipolar depression. The usefulness of antidepressants in bipolar depression is still controversial. Current guidelines generally recommend the cautious antidepressant use in combination with mood stabilizers to reduce the risk of mood elevation or cycle acceleration. Results from clinical trials on psychosocial intervention are promising, especially when integrated with pharmacotherapy. Most patients with bipolar depression need individualized and combined treatment, although the published evidence on this type of treatment strategy is limited. Future studies on the utility of currently available agents and modalities including psychosocial intervention are required.
Keywords: Anticonvulsants, antidepressants, bipolar depression, lithium, psychosocial intervention, second-generation antipsychotics