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Lithium for depression: all you need to know

Lithium for depression: all you need to know

Lithium has been used for over 60 years to treat bipolar disorder. In recent years, there has been growing interest in its potential use as a treatment for depression. Lithium augmentation is usually deployed for treating Major Depressive Disorder that's resistant to other standard depression treatments like antidepressants.

Lithium's use and effectiveness in depression

Lithium is believed to treat depression by affecting the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are involved in mood regulation.

I wrote extensively on lithium's effect on several mood disorders and even neurodegenerative diseases. Feel free to catch up on the discussion here.

Some studies have found that lithium can improve symptoms of depression in people who have not responded to other treatments. Lithium augments antidepressants in treatment-resistant depression, improving the patient’s response to the treatment.

One study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that lithium was effective in reducing symptoms of depression in people with treatment-resistant depression. Another study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that lithium was effective in reducing symptoms of depression in people with bipolar disorder who also had co-occurring depression.

Lithium’s mechanism of action in depression

The exact mechanism of action by which lithium works to improve symptoms of depression is not fully understood. However, many researchers believe lithium works by increasing the availability of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which are known to be involved in regulating mood.

In addition, lithium may also have neuroprotective effects, which means it may help protect the brain from damage and neurodegeneration caused by stress, age, and other factors.

Side effects of lithium

Like all medications, lithium does have side effects. Common side effects of lithium include tremors, increased thirst and urination, weight gain, and gastrointestinal problems. More severe side effects like kidney and thyroid problems are less common but can occur with long-term use.

You may significantly reduce the risks of lithium's side effects by using lithium in doses considered subtherapeutic levels. That’s anything below 0.6 mmol/L that’s still enough to get the job done.

To be on the safer side, always consult with your physician and schedule lithium blood tests regularly.


There’s so much evidence to support lithium’s miraculous impact on mental health that its relevance can not be ignored. It was once the gold standard for treating bipolar disorder until other medications came up.

But till now, lithium still sometimes works where some other more conventional drugs don’t. Talk about treatment-resistant depression and bipolar. If you believe lithium may be a better alternative for your depression or other mood disorder, talk to us at Hope Mental Health.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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