Antipsychotics have been utilized in the treatment of bipolar disorder for many decades and were the mainstay of treatment before lithium was reintroduced in the late 1960s. Today, many bipolar patients who present with psychotic features are misdiagnosed and prescribed an antipsychotic for another disorder. Estimates of psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder, particularly during a manic episode, are ≥50% by clinical assessment and even higher by individual reports. Thus, antipsychotics are frequently used: as first treatment for psychosis not recognized as bipolar disorder, and as an adjunct to a mood-stabilizing agent in bipolars with psychotic symptoms.
Most recently, antipsychotics have been examined for their mood-stabilizing properties as well (Slide 9). One may conceptualize using a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant for disorders such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and using an antiepileptic as a mood-stabilizing agent; however, it is more difficult to accept that an agent approved for treatment of psychosis can be a primary therapy for bipolar disorder. Data from the monotherapy trials suggest that second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) are at least as effective as lithium and valproic acid for acute mania. There is a very large database indicating that SGAs can be utilized as monotherapy for acute mania. However, there is limited data on the role of these agents in prevention of relapse and recurrence and in their efficacy for depression in the context of bipolar disorder. More studies will be needed to clarify whether SGAs should be used as monotherapy or whether they would be best used as augmenting agents in severe and psychotically manic or depressed patients.