National Alliance on Mental Illness
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NIMH Study on Bipolar Disorder

March 30, 2007

On March 29, the New England Journal of Medicine published  results from a study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on treatment of bipolar disorder, finding that for depressed people who are taking a mood stabilizer, adding an antidepressants is no more effective than a placebo (sugar pill).

The results are part of a large NIMH study, the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD). The next installment will address the psychosocial elements of treatment and is expected soon. NAMI is reviewing the first set and anticipates offering comment once the additional results are published.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the lead author of the study, Dr. Gary Sachs, director of the bipolar clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, advises consumers with bipolar disorder who currently are doing well on antidepressants that they need not quit taking them. (Changes in medication in any case should only occur in consultation with a person’s doctor).

In an editorial also published in the NEJM, Dr. Robert H. Belmaker of Ben Gurion University in Israel notes that European reviews of published studies have found antidepressants to be effective and that in his own practice he prescribes antidepressants to patients with severe depression but mild mania. He points out that bipolar disorder shows wide variability in symptoms, which requires flexibility in treatment.

Read the NIMH press release

Read the Los Angeles Times story (sign in or free registration may be required)

Read an Editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine