New Findings on Bipolar Disorder

Two new studies on bipolar disorder are helping mental health professionals gain a better understanding of this debilitating psychological condition.

Bipolar Symptoms Complicate Treatment

The first of these studies found that bipolar disorder occurs in every country around the world, but that diagnosis and treatment vary widely between nations.  The results of the study were reported in the March, 2011 of the Archives of General Psychiatry.  It involved surveys of more than 60,000 people in the United States, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Lebanon and New Zealand.  Of the 11 nations included in the study, the U.S. was found to have the highest rate of diagnosis and treatment (4.4%), while India had the lowest (0.1%).

These results don’t necessarily mean that more people in the United States have bipolar disorder.  A more likely explanation is that there is an increased awareness of bipolar disorder in the U.S., as well as more opportunities for diagnosis and treatment.  In low-income nations like India, a large proportion of people who suffer from bipolar disorder experience symptoms for their entire lives without receiving treatment.

The authors of the study summarized their report by saying that bipolar disorder causes “the loss of more disability-adjusted life-years than all forms of cancer or major neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer disease.”  The impact of bipolar disorder is worsened by its early onset and presence throughout a person’s lifetime.  Studies such as this one document the enormity of the bipolar disorder problem worldwide and will hopefully lead to increased awareness and opportunities for treatment.

The second notable study on bipolar disorder to receive news coverage this week involved a suspected link between premenstrual exacerbation (commonly referred to as PMS) and the severity of bipolar symptoms in women.  The study, which was reported in the February, 2011 issues of the American Journal of Psychiatry, examined 300 women who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Researchers found that those who also reported having PMS were subject to more severe depression and mood elevation.  They also reported more bipolar episodes and experienced a higher rate of relapse following treatment.

In the general population, roughly 20% of women experience moderate premenstrual symptoms, with about 6% suffering from severe PMS.  Dr. Rodrigo S. Dias, leader of the study, believes that a high number of women with bipolar disorder also suffer from PMS, but treatment for the two conditions has not been combined.  The study indicates that more research is needed to determine the relationship between fluctuating hormone levels and mood disorders.

Dr. Jennifer Payne, assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote an editorial that accompanied the report in which she stated, “Although it’s been talked about some over the years, it’s high time that we look at the differences between men and women with bipolar disorder. This study is starting to do that and displays some of the complexities of treating women with mood disorders.”

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous