Depakote can help with bipolar-related mania. Can it also help with symptoms of depression?

Doctors prescribe Depakote (divalproex sodium) for various uses, including to treat certain mental health conditions.

While Depakote isn’t approved to treat major depressive disorder, doctors may recommend it for depression and mania associated with bipolar disorder.

Before starting any new medication, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about what to expect. They can explain the medication’s benefits, potential side effects, and how it compares to other medications.

Understanding how your medication works and what side effects it can cause can better prepare you for taking it.

Depakote is an anticonvulsant medication. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat:

  • seizures
  • symptoms of bipolar disorder
  • migraine

Experts don’t fully understand how Depakote’s active ingredient, valproic acid, works. But they believe it helps increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that may play a role in stress, fear, and anxiety.

In the case of seizures, it reduces them by limiting your brain’s electrical activity.

Depakote and bipolar disorder

Doctors prescribe Depakote to treat mania in people with bipolar disorder.

When you have a manic episode, you may experience:

  • extreme mood changes
  • restlessness or talking too much
  • racing thoughts and speech
  • unpredictable behaviors
  • thoughts of grandiosity
  • fast speech with frequent changes in topic

Doctors may also prescribe Depakote to help manage bipolar disorder depressive episodes.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder depression are the same as the symptoms of major depressive disorder and may include:

  • feelings of sadness
  • feelings of desperation
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • losing interest in things you used to enjoy

Depakote can also help treat migraine and seizures.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 2.8% of adults in the United States live with bipolar disorder, and 82.9% experience serious impairment because of their symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is more than the natural ups and downs of life. It causes powerful shifts in mood, activity levels, and energy. The symptoms of depression can affect your ability to take on day-to-day tasks.

Bipolar depression can be crippling and cause atypical depression symptoms like:

  • extreme fatigue
  • a feeling that your limbs are weighed down
  • slowed thinking
  • significant feelings of guilt

Depakote may be helpful if you experience depressive and manic episodes simultaneously, also known as bipolar disorder with mixed features. For example, you may feel hopeless and sad but also restless. Or you may have a manic episode while having feelings of depression.

Abilify (aripiprazole) helps manage and treat mania associated with bipolar disorder. Unlike Depakote, Abilify is an antipsychotic. Doctors typically use it to treat schizophrenia symptoms.

It’s also FDA-approved to treat:

  • bipolar disorder
  • major depressive disorder, in combination with antidepressants
  • Tourette’s syndrome

Abilify works by leveling out and restoring the balance of dopamine and serotonin in your brain.

One older 2016 review suggests Abilify effectively treats manic and mixed episodes of bipolar disorder, but it may not help with acute or recurring bipolar-related depression.

It may help better manage your bipolar disorder symptoms when combined with Depakote.

Depakote and Abilify may:

  • reduce the chances of symptoms coming back
  • increase your ability to tolerate treatment
  • lessen the need for hospital and doctor visits
  • help balance your mood

You may experience the following side effects when taking Depakote:

  • headache
  • stomach pain
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • tremors
  • weight changes

Severe side effects can include:

  • liver damage
  • hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts
  • psychosis
  • anemia
  • bleeding

If you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts, please seek professional support immediately.

Calling or texting a crisis helpline will connect you with a trained counselor 24/7, any day of the year, completely free of charge:

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Getting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be overwhelming. But treatment can help manage your symptoms and allow you to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Your doctor may recommend treating your symptoms by combining two different medications. For example, using a mood stabilizer like Depakote with an antipsychotic medication like Abilify can be more effective than using either alone.

Before starting a new medication, it’s good to let your doctor know about all medicines, supplements, or substances you’re currently taking.

You might also find it helpful to ask questions about the potential side effects and dosage. Your doctor can tell you the best options for dealing with adverse side effects.

Additionally, you may find it helpful to combine medication with other therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Not sure how to get started with therapy or find support? Check out our guide to finding a therapist.