Mood Stabilizers for Depression and Anxiety: What You Need to Know?

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Blog

Mood stabilizers are a class of drugs most often used to manage mood swings and emotional instability. While primarily used to treat bipolar disorder, mood stabilizers can also be used to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

In this guide, we’ll look at the use of mood stabilizers for anxiety and depression, including:

  • What are mood stabilizers?
  • Using mood stabilizers for depression and anxiety
  • Different types of mood stabilizers
  • Mood stabilizers vs antidepressants
  • Should you take antidepressants or mood stabilizers?
  • Frequently asked questions about mood stabilizers.

What are mood stabilizers? 

Mood stabilizers are a type of medication used to treat mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, mania, hypomania, and depression. They help to manage and stabilize mood swings by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain. 

When it comes to their chemical actions, the types of mood stabilizers can vary significantly. However, they’re often grouped together because they can all be used to stabilize moods in those who experience mood swings. Mood stabilizers are different to antidepressants, although they can be sometimes prescribed together. 

You might be prescribed a mood stabilizer depending on: 

  • Your diagnosis and symptoms
  • Your past experiences with medication, including what has or hasn’t been effective
  • Your medical circumstances, i.e. if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a history of kidney or thyroid issues
  • Your treatment goals. 

Using mood stabilizers for depression & anxiety

Although mood stabilizers are most commonly associated with bipolar disorder, they can also be effective in managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Here’s how:

  • Depression: You may be prescribed mood stabilizers for depression if you’ve tried different antidepressant medications but haven’t found them effective. Mood stabilizers target brain chemistry and balance neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This can help regulate mood, decrease the severity of depression symptoms, and provide more energy and emotional stability. 
  • Anxiety: You may be prescribed mood stabilizers for anxiety if you haven’t found success with traditional anxiety treatments. These medications can have a relaxing effect that reduces the severity of physical and mental anxiety symptoms.

Different types of mood stabilizers 

There are three main types of mood stabilizing drugs: 

  • Lithium
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antipsychotics. 

Each of these groups includes various distinct medications known by different names. We’ll look at each type of mood stabilizer in detail below. 


Lithium is a mood stabilizing medication most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. It can be prescribed as:

  • Tablets: Lithium carbonate (Camcolit, Priadel, Liskonum)
  • Liquid: Lithium citrate (Li-liquid, Priadel).


Lithium is often the first choice of medication to treat bipolar depression and mania, helping reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. It is a naturally-occuring substance that works by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain. 

Side effects of lithium

Most side effects of lithium are related to how much of the substance is in your bloodstream. For that reason, your doctor will carefully monitor blood levels to ensure the medication is safely working within its therapeutic range and isn’t at a dangerous level. 

Side effects of lithium include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Shaking
  • Weight gain.


This class of drugs was originally designed to treat seizures and epilepsy, however they are also effective in stabilizing mood. They are sometimes called anti-epileptics. 

Anticonvulsants used as mood stabilizers include:

  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal): Most effective for treating depression in bipolar but is less helpful for mania.
  • Valproic acid (Depakote): Mostly used for rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
  • Carbamazepine (Tegretol): Mainly used for mania or when a person is irritable or aggressive.


Valproic acid, also known as valproate, is not recommended if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as it carries a high risk of your child being born with birth defects and learning disabilities. If you are currently taking valproate, it’s important to continue to do so until your doctor recommends otherwise. 

Side effects of anticonvulsants

The side effects of anticonvulsant mood stabilizers will depend on the type of medication you take: 

  • Lamotrigine: Fever, dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, vomiting, nausea, headaches, skin rash, cramps.
  • Valproic acid: Drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision. vomiting, muscle tremors, mild hair loss, nausea, weight gain, liver problems, menstrual cycle changes, deafness, hallucinations. If you’re pregnant, valproic acid can cause problems with your unborn child. It can also affect how your liver works, so regular tests are recommended.
  • Carbamazepine: Dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness, confusion, muscle tremors, vomiting, nausea, cramps, skin sensitivity, poor coordination. In rare cases, carbamazepine can reduce blood cell count. If you’re prescribed carbamazepine, you should have your blood levels monitored regularly. 


Antipsychotic medications are commonly used to treat symptoms of psychosis, however they can also be used as mood stabilizers. These medications can regulate mood and control manic or mixed episodes.

There are two classes of antipsychotics: 

  • First generation: The first type of antipsychotics, first formulated in the 1950s 
  • Second generation: Newer medications used since the 1990s. 


The main difference between these two classes is their side effects. First generation antipsychotics can have more of an impact on movement compared to second generation. 

First generation antipsychotics include:

  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Loxapine (Loxatine)
  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)


Second generation antipsychotics include:

  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa).

Side effects of antipsychotics

Like with anticonvulsants, the side effects of antipsychotics will depend on the type of drug you are taking. Common side effects can include:

  • Weight gain
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Movement disorders (tardive dyskinesia)
  • Metabolic changes
  • Increased blood sugar levels.

Mood stabilizers for depression

Mood stabilizers can be prescribed for depression in addition to antidepressants or when antidepressants are ineffective. The most common mood stabilizers used for depression include:

  • Lithium: Lithium can treat both manic and depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder and help treat depression that hasn’t responded to other medications. 
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel): Seroquel is FDA-approved as an add-on treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). It is often combined with other antidepressants.
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal): Lamotrigine is primarily used to treat bipolar disorder but has been shown to have antidepressant effects and stop depressive relapses.
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify): Aripiprazole is often used in conjunction with antidepressant medications to enhance their effectiveness. 
  • Olanzapine/Fluoxetine combination (Symbyax): This medication combines an antipsychotic with an antidepressant and is approved for treating depressive episodes linked with bipolar disorder.

Mood stabilizers vs antidepressants

Both mood stabilizers and antidepressants are used to treat mood disorders, however they serve different purposes and have different mechanisms of action. Below, we look at the main differences between mood stabilizers and antidepressants. 

TYPES Lithium, Anticonvulsants (Lamotrigine, Valproic acid), Antipsychotics (Loxapine, Quetiapine) SSRIs (Fluoxetine, Sertraline), SNRIs (Venlafaxine, Duloxetine), MAOIs (Phenelzine), Tricyclics (Amitriptyline)
PRIMARY USE Bipolar disorder

Stabilizing mood swings (depression and mania)

Depression and anxiety disorders
MECHANISM OF ACTION Broadly influence certain neurotransmitters and decrease abnormal activity in the brain Increase levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine
ONSET OF ACTION 1-2 weeks for initial effects

4-6 weeks for significant effects

2-3 weeks for initial effects

6-8 weeks for significant effects

ASSOCIATION WITH MANIA Used to prevent manic episodes Can trigger manic episodes in those with bipolar depression
MONITORING Regular blood tests and check-ins Regular follow-ups to evaluate effectiveness

Should I take mood stabilizers or antidepressants?

The only way to determine which type of medication is best for you is to speak to a medication management professional. They will be able to evaluate your symptoms and recommend a customized treatment plan that targets your symptoms and achieves the results you’re looking for. 

To get started with medication for depression or anxiety, you can book a consultation with one of our experienced professionals at BestMind Behavioral Health. 

Mood stabilizers: FAQ 

Below, we answer some of the most common questions people have about mood stabilizers.

Which mood stabilizer is right for me? 

There are different types of mood stabilizers used for different symptoms and mental health issues. Depending on your experiences, you may be prescribed:

  • Lithium: Although primarily used to treat mania, lithium can also be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of depressive episodes.
  • Valproic acid: Often used when people haven’t responded well to lithium, valproic acid can also help with depressive phases in bipolar disorder. 
  • Carbamazepine: Most commonly prescribed for those experiencing mania or mixed states, but can stabilize mood and help reduce depressive symptoms. 
  • Lamotrigine: Particularly effective for bipolar depression and can help prevent depressive episodes.

Are antidepressants mood stabilizers?

No, antidepressants are not considered mood stabilizers. While they can help lift your mood if you experience depression or anxiety, antidepressants are a separate class of medications to mood stabilizers. 

Mood stabilizers are specifically designed to prevent extreme mood swings (manic and depressive episodes). Their purpose is to help maintain a stable, consistent mood over time, while antidepressants mainly address depressive symptoms.

How long do I have to take mood stabilizers for?

The length of time you take mood stabilizers will depend on various factors, including symptoms, side effects, and results. Every individual is different and this decision will be between you and your medication management provider.

Some people prefer to take medications for the long-term if it helps them remain stable and carry on with their lives. Others prefer to take medication temporarily while developing other coping strategies. You should always do what feels right for you and discuss your experiences and results with your medication management provider.

How do I stop taking mood stabilizers? 

You should speak to your doctor before stopping mood stabilizers. Depending on the medication you’re taking, you may experience side effects or withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking your medication suddenly. Your doctor can provide you with a plan for coming off the medication safely, usually by slowly reducing the dosage over a number of weeks. During this period, you can keep out for signs that your symptoms are returning. 

Do mood stabilizers affect other medications?

Some mood stabilizers can interact with other medications. Always tell your doctor if you’re about to start taking mood stabilizers or have been offered medication for another issue while on mood stabilizers. This includes herbal or complementary medication, such as St. John’s Wort, as well as over-the-counter drugs like codeine, paracetamol, and ibuprofen. 

Can you mix alcohol with mood stabilizers? 

It is not recommended to mix alcohol with certain mood stabilizers, including valproic acid and lamotrigine. Ask your doctor or mental health professional for advice on how alcohol may affect your medication. 

Can I drive or operate heavy machinery when using mood stabilizers?

Certain mood stabilizers cause drowsiness in some people. This can affect your reaction time when driving or operating heavy machinery. If you feel drowsy when taking mood stabilizers, you shouldn’t drive. It’s best to check with your medication management provider or doctor for advice. 

Can I take mood stabilizers when pregnant?

If you are taking mood stabilizers, it’s important to discuss with your doctor or mental health professional if you become pregnant or are thinking of becoming pregnant. They will be able to discuss with you the potential effects of your medication on pregnancy. 

Some mood stabilizers are not recommended to take while pregnant. Your medication management provider will discuss any potential risks involved and, if necessary, help you transition to a different type of medication. 

Customized treatment for depression & anxiety

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, help is available. BestMind Behavioral Health is dedicated to the treatment of mental health conditions and we can offer you comprehensive, personalized treatment plans that target your symptoms and help you reclaim your mental well-being. 

We specialize in effective depression treatment and our licensed professionals use a combination of expert diagnoses, medication management, and innovative therapies. Start your journey through telemedicine or an in-person consultation at one of our clinics.

Depression treatment in Colorado 

Mental health services in Broomfield, Colorado: Find us at 2095 W 6th Ave, Suite 106. To schedule an appointment, call us on (303) 468-8018 or book a consultation online.

Mental health services in Denver, Colorado: Find us at 6950 E Belleview Ave, Suite 300. To schedule an appointment, call us on (303) 468-8018 or book a consultation online.

Mental health services in Colorado Springs, Colorado: Find us at 24 S. Weber Street, Suite 345. To schedule an appointment, call us on (303) 468-8018 or book a consultation online

Depression treatment in Oregon 

Mental health services in Clackamas, Oregon: Find us at 9895 SE Sunnyside Road, Suite F. To schedule an appointment, call us on (971) 300-0654 or book a consultation online

Mental health services in Portland, Oregon: Find us at 13535 SW 72nd Avenue, Suite 170. To schedule an appointment, call us on (971) 300-0654 or book a consultation online.

Mental health services in Salem, Oregon: Find us at 2480 Liberty Street NE, Suite 110. To schedule an appointment, call us on (971) 300-0654 or book a consultation online.

Mental health services in Bend, Oregon: Find us at 250 NW Franklin Avenue, Suite 204. To schedule an appointment, call us on (971) 300-0654 or book a consultation online.