Bipolar Disorder – top 10 facts

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified bipolar disorder as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health in 15-44 year olds, ranking above war, violence and schizophrenia.

  1. Bipolar disorders probably affect up to 2.4 million people in the UK, 12 million in the US and 254 million worldwide.
  2. Bipolar disorder increases the suicide rate by up to 20 times.
  3. Even in developed countries, it is poorly recognised. The average time from first symptoms to seeking help is around 4.5 years. One survey in the U.S. found that it took over ten years (on average) until correct diagnosis and treatment.
  4. The same survey found that mis-diagnoses occurred on average 3.5 times before a correct diagnosis.
  5. People with bipolar disorder spend around 50% of their lives after onset with significant symptoms (mainly depressive) even with current ‘non-optimal’ treatments,.
  6. Another U.S survey found that as many as 70% of psychiatrists were unaware of the American Psychiatric Association’s expert treatment guidelines on bipolar disorder.
  7. In one national study in Australia amongst people with bipolar disorder who died by suicide, 60% received inadequate treatment. Many had received no treatment at all.
  8. Good treatment extends life expectancy by 6-7 years and returns the standardised mortality rate to normal (an index insurance companies use to help assess risk).
  9. Compared to other health problems which have similar or lower impact on the quality of life, treatment of bipolar disorder is hampered by severe social stigma and inadequate funding for research.
  10. The blessing and the curse?  Almost certainly the genes which in one combination can give rise to severe disabling bipolar illness, can in other combinations have advantages – “the bipolar advantage”.  This may explain why some exceptionally creative and successful people have relatives with bipolar disorder, severe depression and suicide in their family. It may also explain why many people with bipolar disorder are gifted.