new survey reveals 4 out of 5 of people with bipolar struggle
to get a correct diagnosis – with the average delay in diagnosis a
staggering 13 years.
The survey of 706 people affected by bipolar was carried out by
Bipolar UK, the Royal
College of Psychiatrists and Bipolar Scotland to mark
the first ever National Bipolar Awareness Day (27 June).
On average, respondents said they started to
experience symptoms of bipolar disorder at the age of 23, with 50%
reporting their first symptoms occurred between 11 and 20 years of
age. While 15% were diagnosed promptly, 85% had difficulty in
getting the right diagnosis – the majority of whom were wrongly
diagnosed with depression.
The average wait for the right diagnosis was
13.2 years. For those who had a delayed diagnosis, 71% felt their
symptoms had been made worse by being given inappropriate
treatments, such as antidepressants or sleeping pills.
Alison Cairns, Chief Executive of Bipolar
Scotland, said: "The results of the survey reflect the experiences
of our members. There are many reasons for the delay in diagnosis,
not least that people are more likely to visit a GP when depressed
and not reveal the extent of their mood swings. Highlighting these
issues can only have a positive effect."
Suzanne Hudson, Chief Executive of Bipolar
UK, said: "A delay of this length has a significant impact for
individuals and families with sometimes devastating consequences as
bipolar has the highest risk of suicide of any psychiatric illness.
All of us – individuals concerned about their health, relatives,
friends, medical professionals and the media – need to work
together to ensure this length of time is reduced. If you are
concerned you might have bipolar, go to our website and
complete the mood scale
we provide before discussing it with your doctor: it will give you
both a better understanding of your mood swings over time. If
possible, speak to a loved one or an organisation like Bipolar UK
or Bipolar Scotland for support."
The organisations also carried out a
separate survey of 460 mental health professionals, including
psychiatrists. This showed areas of good practice, with 89% saying
they screened people who show symptoms of depression for a history
of mania as well. However, 43% said they rarely or never spoke to a
relative or carer of the person to obtain a corroborative history.
In addition, over half (51%) said they would find a straightforward
screening tool for bipolar disorder helpful in their day-to-day
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Danny Smith said:
"This survey is consistent with several research studies which have
highlighted that getting the diagnosis right in the early stages of
bipolar disorder can be very challenging. Many people with bipolar
disorder who responded to the survey felt that GPs and other
medical professionals might need more support in carrying out more
detailed assessments to identify bipolar depression."
Over half the clinicians (53%) said they
felt recent media coverage of bipolar disorder had been helpful or
very helpful in increasing public awareness and understanding of
TV presenter Bill Oddie, who has spoken
about his personal experience of bipolar and is supporting National
Bipolar Awareness Day, said: "Over ten years to arrive at a correct
diagnosis! Really? I can believe it. It happened to me and it’s
happening to others right now. It could be fatal."
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The first National Bipolar Awareness Day takes place on Wednesday 27 June 2012. It is being led by Bipolar UK, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Bipolar Scotland.
Note to editors:
The three organisations conducted two online surveys over a four-week period in April and May 2012. The first survey, which had 706 respondents, was aimed at service users with a diagnosis or bipolar and relatives/carers of someone with bipolar. The second survey, which had 460 respondents, was aimed at mental health professionals.