Psychiatrists working in London have
identified a new and unusual phenomenon – people diagnosing
themselves with bipolar disorder.
Dr Diana Chan and Dr Lester Sireling believe
the trend is linked to increased public awareness of the disorder,
as well as the willingness of celebrities such as Stephen Fry,
Robbie Williams and Carrie Fisher to talk about their personal
experiences of mood disorders.
Writing in the March issue
of The Psychiatrist, the psychiatrists say: “We have
noticed in our clinical practice a new and unusual phenomenon,
where patients present to psychiatrists with self-diagnosed bipolar
“Recently, we have noticed numerous GP
referrals to our service where the primary request has been for a
psychiatric opinion on whether the patient may have bipolar
disorder, as suggested by the patient’s own self-diagnosis.
“Also common, but less so in our experience,
is the patient who attends reluctantly at the instigation of family
members who are convinced they have finally made the diagnosis that
can explain the awkward or embarrassing behaviour of their
relative. Both types of presentation were very uncommon until about
3 years ago.”
Explaining the phenomenon, Dr Chan and Dr
Sireling say: “The increasing popularity of bipolar disorder may be
attributed to increased media coverage, coupled with the high
social status associated with celebrities such as Stephen Fry
talking about their own personal experiences of mental illness.
This appears to have promoted the disorder as less stigmatising and
acceptable to the public, a phenomenon that may have an
But Dr Chan and Dr Sireling say patients who
‘want to be bipolar’ may not always understand the consequences of
being diagnosed with the disorder. These range from declaring the
diagnosis to employers and medical insurance companies, to the side
effects of some medication used to treat the disorder.
However, the psychiatrists conclude: “It can
be considered equally harmful, if not more so, to miss a true
bipolar diagnosis. Current evidence suggests that bipolar disorder
may be under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed.”
About 1 in every 100 adults in the population
has bipolar disorder at a given time. However, more recent studies
suggest the true prevalence may be as high as 11 in every 100.
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Chan D and Sireling L (2010) ‘I want to be bipolar’…a new phenomenon, The Psychiatrist, 34: 103-105