As the world prepares to mark World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, the national charity, Bipolar UK, has brought attention to startling statistics that underscore the urgent need for timely diagnosis and care for those suffering from bipolar disorder. It has been revealed that 24% of individuals who wait up to two years for a bipolar diagnosis attempt suicide. More alarmingly, this rate surges to over 39% for those who are left waiting between five to ten years. The current average delay from the time individuals report their initial symptoms to receiving a bipolar diagnosis is a staggering 9.5 years.
Bipolar disorder is recognised as the mental health condition carrying the most significant risk of suicide. Based on international data, between 15–20% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder will tragically end their lives due to suicide. Moreover, an estimated 60% will attempt suicide at least once during their lives.
In November 2022, Bipolar UK showcased an 18-month research study to government policymakers. Their findings, consolidated in the Bipolar Commission, emphasised the dire need to reduce diagnostic wait times and ensure a continuum of care. The overarching goal is to improve the quality of life for those affected by bipolar disorder and minimise the devastating number of related suicides.
Simon Kitchen, CEO of Bipolar UK, voiced his grave concerns, stating: “Due to the prolonged delays in diagnosis, many individuals feel deeply isolated, leading some to see suicide as their only escape. It’s worth noting that over half of those living with bipolar disorder have not been diagnosed yet, suggesting that the actual suicide rates could be even more alarming than the ones we currently recognise.”
Bipolar disorder affects more than a million individuals in the UK. This pervasive condition is characterised by intense and often drastic mood and energy shifts, which stand in stark contrast to the regular ups and downs most people experience in their daily lives. Kitchen further highlighted the importance of medical professionals being better educated on how suicidality presents in bipolar patients. The provision of adequate resources is also crucial.
Professor Guy Goodwin, co-chair of the Bipolar Commission and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Oxford, also stressed the importance of accelerating the diagnostic process. He proposed swifter access to psychiatric care and the necessity of introducing psychoeducation for patients. This will help those with bipolar disorder better comprehend their increased suicide risk.
For individuals seeking more information on bipolar disorder, Bipolar UK has provided resources on their website. You can learn more about understanding the condition and access the charity’s dedicated suicide prevention resources through their online portals.
Bipolar UK stands as the sole national charity in the UK dedicated to supporting those impacted by bipolar disorder. The organisation furnishes a range of services from information dissemination and support groups to workplace training. Their operations also extend to collaborative research and policy advocacy. Interested parties can explore more on Bipolar UK’s official website.
Reflecting on the broader implications of the disorder, it’s worth noting that more than five million friends and family members in the UK are significantly affected by a loved one’s bipolar diagnosis. The annual economic toll exacted by bipolar disorder on the UK is a concerning £20 billion, accounting for 17% of the total financial burden attributed to mental illnesses. Daily, a bipolar individual succumbs to suicide in the UK, with over 50% of patients having been hospitalised due to their condition. Other health challenges tied to the disorder include a 44% obesity rate among diagnosed individuals and a tragic 10–15 year decrease in life expectancy compared to the wider population.