In the March edition of Archives of General Psychiatry, results from the first comprehensive global study on bipolar disorder, a serious psychiatric illness were published. The United States ranked the highest in overall lifetime rates of bipolar disorder.
In the past, bipolar disorder was referred to as manic depression and many people still know it by that name. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by cycles of depression and mania. Manic periods are different for everyone but are often marked by feelings of euphoria, irritability, grandiose thinking, impulsive and risk taking behavior, and a decreased need for sleep. People with bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for suicide and substance abuse. They are also likely to be more creative and highly intelligent. Many artists, comedians, and actors have admitted that they suffer from the disease.
The study, which looked at eleven nations, found that approximately 2.4 percent of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime. The United States ranked the highest with a lifetime prevalence rate of 4.4 percent. The country with the lowest rate of bipolar was India with 0.1 percent.
Fewer than half of people with the disorder were treated by a mental health professional, according to the study,and only a quarter of those in lower-income countries sought treatment. “It’s very important that we understand the scope and magnitude of this disorder so that we can plan appropriate treatments, facilitate recognition of diseases, and identify people at risk so we can bring them into treatment,” says the study’s lead author, Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., chief of the genetic epidemiology research branch at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Experts believe there could be several possible explanations for why the U.S. had such high rates of the disease. “It could be genetics; it could be environment. It also could be the way individuals in different cultures are willing to respond to this kind of an inquiry,” says Sara Bodner, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Cultural awareness plays a very big role in psychiatry. Some cultures have a huge reluctance to speak about psychiatric things.”
With awareness, more people are diagnosed and there is less of a stigma to the disease. “We’re pretty aware of [bipolar disorder],” Merikangas says. Lower awareness in lower-income nations leads to higher levels of stigma. That means fewer people may be willing to talk about or get treatment for symptoms, which can lead to lower perceived rates of bipolar disorder. “Rates of bipolar disorder were lower in countries with more stigma,” Merikangas says.