New early signs of bipolar have been identified, thanks to the latest research by University of Manchester and Keele University.
The UK’s only national charity focussed on supporting the bipolar community, Bipolar UK, is pleased to support these new findings, as it aims to reduce average diagnosis time which currently sits at nine-and-a-half years.
The latest research, which was recently published in the British Journal of General Practice, identified previous depressive episodes, sleep disturbance, substance misuse, receipt of three or more different types of psychotropic medications in a year, escalating self-harm episodes, frequent primary care consultations and missed scheduled GP appointments as strong indicators that bipolar should be considered.
Identification of these indicators by healthcare professionals will enable doctors to carry out quicker referral, assessment, diagnosis and treatment of the condition, significantly improving prognosis and lowering the high risk of suicide. Yet, it is estimated that 56% of people living with bipolar do not have a diagnosis. “In order for those living with bipolar to receive the support they desperately need, they first need a diagnosis,” said Bipolar UK CEO, Simon Kitchen. “Waiting nine-and-a-half years is far too long.” “It is therefore vital that the medical community, from front line GPs through to community mental health professionals, recognise the early warning signs of bipolar identified in this new study. A greater awareness of these indicators could significantly reduce diagnosis times and save lives.”
The research team was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and analysed routinely collected electronic primary healthcare data from January 2010 through to July 2017. The findings identified 47,138 people without a bipolar disorder diagnosis in England. The work supports the remit of the recent Bipolar Commission report ‟Bipolar Minds Matter”, which is calling for major reform to develop a dedicated healthcare pathway for specialist treatments and lifetime support for people with bipolar.
Carolyn Chew-Graham, professor of general practice research at Keele University and who also sits on the Bipolar UK clinical advisory panel said: “Better referral pathways from primary to specialist care are desperately needed both for patients and GPs, when a diagnosis of bipolar is suspected, if patients are to receive the timely help they need.
“Think bipolar? It is a strong message to send out to GPs. The findings from our study support the recent call from the Bipolar Commission Report for dedicated care for people with bipolar disorder.”
Dr Catharine Morgan, a research fellow at the University of Manchester, said: “Bipolar disorders are serious mental illnesses characterised by instability in mood. They can impact on the lives of patients and their families to a seriously detrimental degree.” “Early treatment, however, can be crucial in averting years of hardship and elevated risk for patients; our study provides crucial information that could help GPs to consider a diagnosis of bipolar much earlier to enable timely effective treatment and referral on for specialist assessment.”
Anya Francis, a University of Manchester researcher who facilitated the lived experience advisory panel (LEAP) for the research and who lives with type II bipolar, said: “This work was inspired by sharing my personal experience of missed opportunities to spot the early warning signs of bipolar and receive a timely diagnosis. “The early warning signs included sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, and high energy levels. My personal hope is that the findings from this study can be used in primary care settings to encourage clinicians to ‟ Think Bipolar” and improve outcomes for others.”
Kitchen added; “The current care system for bipolar is broken, resulting in an ineffective and inaccurate pathway to diagnosis. It is shocking that diagnosis delays are worse now than when Bipolar UK was founded as a charity 40 years ago. Although we are providing as much support as we can, we desperately need the government to sit up and take action before we lose even more people to suicide.”
Bipolar UK has a 20–minute free e–learning course for those wanting to learn more about the condition, as well as a mood disorder questionnaire to help anyone who thinks they might have the condition to get the support they need and receive a quicker diagnosis.