Medication is a mainstay treatment for schizophrenia. There are several options available, and lithium may be one of them.

Lithium is a light, whitish-silver metal that’s solid at room temperature. If you’ve ever seen a periodic table, you might remember seeing the “Li” for lithium at the top left, underneath the first element, hydrogen.

Lithium and its compounds have various uses. Lithium carbonate and lithium citrate are two such compounds. They’re used for the treatment of mania and depression.

Although lithium is mostly used to treat bipolar disorder, it’s also sometimes used to treat schizophrenia.

There’s some evidence that lithium can help with the treatment of schizophrenia.

  • A 12-year study using both mice and data mining of human patient records suggested that lithium has therapeutic potential in the treatment of schizophrenia.
  • A 2015 review including 22 randomized studies found no quality evidence to suggest that lithium by itself can treat schizophrenia. The review authors rated the evidence as low quality and indicate that more study is needed in this area.
  • A 2012 study looked at lithium’s antipsychotic effect in acute mania. The study involved 46 participants experiencing mania, 32 with psychosis, and 14 without. Lithium was similarly effective for both groups.

Data mainly supports lithium use as an add-on therapy with antipsychotic medications. More research is needed in this area.

Psychosis is a brain state characterized by loss of contact with reality. People experiencing psychosis may have trouble knowing what’s real and what isn’t. Hallucinations, delusions, nonsense speech, and inappropriate behavior are signs of psychosis.

A 2014 overview on schizophrenia treatment states that while lithium improves mood and behavior in people with schizophrenia, it doesn’t have an antipsychotic effect.

However, a healthcare professional may prescribe lithium for psychosis in certain situations. For some people with schizophrenia, lithium by itself or in combination with antipsychotic medications may be effective. A healthcare or mental health professional can determine whether this approach is something you can try.

Lithium is a mood stabilizer. Doctors have used lithium for bipolar disorder since 1949 because of its effectiveness in treating mania and preventing bipolar disorder relapses.

Lithium has also been shown to reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors in people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved lithium for bipolar disorder treatment but not schizophrenia. Sometimes doctors prescribe it “off-label” (without FDA approval) for other conditions, including schizophrenia.

Lithium affects the central nervous system. It’s believed to reinforce the connections in the brain areas responsible for thinking, behavior, and mood regulation.

It may take several weeks to know whether lithium is an effective medication for you and your symptoms.

If you’re on lithium, it might be a good idea to monitor for side effects and track your progress. Let a healthcare or mental health professional know how the medication makes you feel.

Lithium carbonate is available in tablet form — both regular and extended-release. Lithium citrate comes in liquid form for people who have trouble swallowing pills.

The two types of lithium are absorbed differently, so it’s essential to stick to one type unless your switch is supervised by a healthcare or mental health professional.

Too much lithium in your bloodstream can be dangerous, so a healthcare or mental health professional will likely monitor your levels with regular testing. Your dosage may be adjusted if needed.

Lithium may help regulate the neurotransmitters in the brain — like dopamine, glutamate, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) — linked to schizophrenia symptoms.

It can change how these brain chemicals send signals and target other systems that help contribute to stability.

Lithium is also thought to protect against the oxidative stress that results from repeated occurrences of mania and depression.

It’s believed to have a neuroprotective effect even at much lower doses than prescribed for mood stabilizing.

Lithium is naturally found in trace amounts in the human body. It’s also found in drinking water and some foods such as vegetables, grains, fish, dairy, and meat.

A systematic review of multiple studies revealed a link between naturally occurring lithium in drinking water and reduced suicide rates.

Schizophrenia is a serious condition, but there are treatments that can help manage it.

Medications called typical antipsychotics and atypical antipsychotics can help reduce symptoms and prevent a recurrence. They can be prescribed in the form of daily pills or long lasting injections.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can provide you with strategies to navigate daily life with schizophrenia. It can also help your loved ones get through the experience with you.

Self-care strategies you can try include goal setting, managing auditory hallucinations, and connecting with other people living with schizophrenia. Scheduling regular time for activities you enjoy can also help reduce your stress level.

If you or someone you know has schizophrenia, resources are available to support you.

If you’re in distress and need help right away, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Responders are available 24/7 to offer assistance. As of July 16, 2022, everyone across the United States will be able to use the three-digit dialing code of 988 to access this service.

You can also reach a counselor by texting “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

If you’re interested in trying a support group, NAMI has a directory you can use to find a group near you.