Barbie and The AspirinIf you’ve been staying up on medication news, you are probably aware that a lot of the recent literature has pointed to the inefficacy of antidepressants for patients with bipolar disorder.

Now, a study from Brown University in Rhode Island shows that antidepressants can even be harmful.

Recent research at Brown found that there was no difference in hospital readmission rates among patients who took antidepressants and those who did not.

One antidepressant in particular, venlafaxine, was associated with a threefold higher rate of hospital readmission in those with bipolar and comorbid anxiety.

This is just a sample at one university, but it is one of many studies that have cited caution in using antidepressants.

As I mentioned, the finding is consistent with the most current literature on antidepressants and bipolar disorder. This study in particular was presented at the 2013 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting.

The Study Explained  

The study was conducted in 377 patients aged 18 to 65 years with bipolar I disorder, most recent episode depressed, who were discharged from a hospital anywhere from January 1, 2008, to July 12, 2011.

Fifty-six percent of the patients were readmitted within 1 year of discharge, regardless of antidepressant status.

Why Are Clinicians Still Prescribing Antidepressants?

Investigators think it’s possible that clinicians persist in prescribing antidepressants in patients with bipolar because there are so few effective treatment options for this population. Brown University MD Jennifer Lynn Warner explains:

“These patients are often very ill, and other medications such as mood stabilizers haven’t really worked, so clinicians are turning to antidepressants in the hope that they will have some benefit. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t really bear this out. It would be helpful to find treatments that worked in these patients”.

The study also revealed that patients with comorbid anxiety disorders had significantly higher readmission rates and shorter time to readmission regardless of antidepressant status.

My Take

When I was 12, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants. I have been on them for the last 13 years, even though I was diagnosed with bipolar II at 19 and bipolar I at 21.

I have had several doctors treat me, both inpatient and outpatient, but no one has ever questioned taking the antidepressants off of my treatment plan.

I have wondered about this, especially with the recent evidence. However, I’m a bit afraid to be without them, after all of this time, as if they’re a security blanket. My body has been used to them for so long, what would happen if I didn’t have them?

I don’t know if my clinicians are thinking the same thing—but I think that Dr. Warner is right. After pushing antidepressants for bipolar for so long, clinicians are likely hesitant to take them away.

I go to my next psychiatrist appointment in July, and I am considering bringing this up.

If you are bipolar and on antidepressants, do you think it is a good idea to keep the antidepressants on your treatment plan or take them off, in light of the recent literature? Why do you think clinicians keep us on antidepressants? 


Note: Never discontinue medications without discussing it with your doctor. 

Photo Credit: Deborah Leigh via Compfight

Source: Cassels, C. (2013, May 30). Antidepressants in bipolar disorder: No benefit, possible harm. Retrieved from