Home Mental Health & Well-Being Royal College of Psychiatrists Says 10-Year Waits for Bipolar Diagnosis “Unacceptable”

Royal College of Psychiatrists Says 10-Year Waits for Bipolar Diagnosis “Unacceptable”

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On average, it takes 9.5 years to get an accurate bipolar diagnosis. 

During this lost decade, people living with undiagnosed bipolar are at risk of losing their jobs, relationships, homes, and lives.

The uncertainty of waiting can increase the risk of reaching a mental health crisis point. A recent study by the Bipolar Commission found a significant portion of individuals (34%) had attempted suicide due to this prolonged delay.1

People living with bipolar in the UK (more than a million people) are also at greater risk of physical illness, on average dying 10 to 15 years earlier. For those living with the condition, a further five family members and friends are profoundly impacted.

On World Bipolar Day (30th March), the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Bipolar UK are calling on Government to urgently readdress this waiting list crisis and give people living with bipolar the opportunity to have rewarding and fulfilling lives with opportunities to make the fullest contribution to society.

We are seeking Government commitment to four key questions:

  1. Reduce the average delay to diagnosis from 9.5 years down to five years in five years. 
  2. Provide a specialist care pathway for bipolar patients. This would be on par with early interventions for psychosis services, it would be psychiatrist-led, with support from mental health nurses, and would prioritise continuity of care and peer support.
  3. Develop standards for bipolar care and data collection, which could be regularly audited by an independent third party, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
  4. Provide effective psychoeducation for everyone with bipolar disorder. 

Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE, Registrar at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It is simply unacceptable that people with bipolar have to wait so long for a diagnosis. They are often left without any way to tell what is coming next, lurching from crisis to crisis.

“We wouldn’t expect people with asthma, diabetes, or cancer to deal with the impact of serious illness single handedly. It’s time that we respond to serious mental illness with exactly the same urgency.

“Symptoms of bipolar usually first occur during early adulthood, when people rightly have their hearts set on forging a stable, productive life. Instead, they have to look on while their peers forge the relationships, careers, and prospects they can only dream of.

“We know that people with bipolar can respond very quickly to the right treatment and get their lives back on track. However, establishing a diagnosis can be complex and can take time, making it imperative that people are assessed as early as possible.

“Without additional resources to bring down waiting lists, people with bipolar will carry on experiencing years of needless suffering.”

Simon Kitchen, Chief Executive Officer at Bipolar UK, said: “People with bipolar need and deserve early diagnosis, specialist treatment, continuity of care, peer support and effective self-management advice. This will dramatically reduce the risk of severe bipolar episodes and empower people to lead good long lives with minimal ongoing clinical support.

“Making these changes will be a win-win for the patient, their family, their employers and the NHS, helping to improve lives, save money and, most importantly, save lives”.

Anthony waited more than three decades for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder: “I was 19 and at university when I had a couple of outbursts and attempted to take my own life. My GP diagnosed depression. For years, I took antidepressants but still struggled with low moods. And at times I was spending too much, taking risks, and feeling irritable.

“Then three years ago, when I was 52, a friend suggested I see a psychiatrist because he thought I might have bipolar. The psychiatrist diagnosed bipolar type II, put me on a mood stabiliser and adjusted the dose of the antidepressant. Everybody around me noticed the difference straight away.

Getting a diagnosis has had quite a dramatic effect on me to be honest.”

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Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.

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