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Emotional regulation technique could help manage bipolar mood swings

An existing psychological therapy that helps with emotional regulation could be used to help people with bipolar disorder manage mood swings, findings from a new study suggest

Affecting 1 in 50 people in the UK, bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is characterised by mood swings from periods of extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows. But as with most mental health issues, there are many different types of bipolar disorder, each with their own characteristics. One subgroup of people with the condition can experience mood fluctuations outside of full-blown episodes of either mania or depression.

According to Bipolar UK, roughly 1.3 million people live with bipolar disorder in the UK, and many will be treated with a mixture of medication and talking therapies. Unfortunately, treatment tends to focus on reducing the chance of a full episode developing resulting in many people with the condition lacking the support and treatment to live well with their condition.

Researchers on the ThrIVe-B programme are attempting to fill this gap, investigating the potential of an existing therapy for another mental health issue in treating those with bipolar disorder.

The treatment is called dialectical behavioural therapy (DPT) and is used to help people with both the acceptance of situations and emotional responses. It is currently used in the treatment of people with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.

The study investigated the addition of DPT alongside usual treatment to see if it can help people with bipolar disorder better regulate their emotions outside of episodes. Forty-three people participated in the 6-month long study of whom one half received DPT and usual therapy, whilst the other half continued with their usual NHS care.


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Participants were interviewed at various stages throughout the study and were asked to complete questionnaires at the beginning of the study, then at the 3-, 6-, 9-, and 15-month mark.

According to their findings, the team think that a larger investigation of their combination treatment is now warranted as there was enough interest among participants for something that would help with mood swings.

"Overall, the study shows that there is demand from people with bipolar for a psychological therapy addressing ongoing mood instability, and that a larger trial of a therapy like this is feasible," said Dr Kim Wright, lead author of the study.

"Because of the small numbers of people tested, the trial was never intended to evaluate the benefit of the treatment itself. Instead the study aimed to evaluate feasibility and acceptability of this therapy.

"Our next steps will be to refine the therapy in line with what we learned from this study, such as simplifying content and considering individual rather than group delivery.”

Read the study in full here.


Written by Sylvie Ward

News reporter for Talking Mental Health


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