BIPOLAR IS BOOMING! #bipolarboom #bipolardisorder

What is causing the BIPOLAR BOOM?

I am increasingly being contacted by young people saying, “I think I am bipolar” and those who have persuaded their doctor to give them bipolar medications based on very common anxiety warning signs.

Several psychiatrists I have met through my work have told me of the increasing demands for bipolar medication from patients who do not seem unwell enough to need them. They also admit to being influenced to prescribe powerful drugs for children when their parents argue strongly that warning signs such as not sleeping enough or sleeping too much are signs of bipolar disorder. Something is going terribly wrong, when so many people are almost enthusiastic about gaining a diagnosis of a severe mental illness, especially one associated with shortened life expectancy.

How did this boom in bipolar diagnosis get going? 

Manic depression was a very rare illness prior to the widespread use of psychiatric drugs. As drug use increased in the 1950’s and 1960’s more people who were suffering occasional periods of anxiety or depression started to be considered to be manic-depressive.

Creation of a new category of mental illness called Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD) in 1980 expanded the market for psychiatric drugs beyond the still small numbers admitting to being manic depressive.

Very few people understood the meaning of the new label as the word ‘Affective’ was not explained. The meaning being, ‘The mood that is displayed as opposed to anything measurable’, which made it clear for those prescribing that this was not a specific disorder that could be tested for or diagnosed by examining causes. The bipolar label and medication was only to be related to symptoms of anxiety or anxiety avoidance and rather than anything else, such as blood tests or trauma. This allowed patients to be labelled as bipolar and given medication without any need to ask what had happened/what had caused them to become troubled and be in front of the doctor.

Right from the start (1980), the media chose not to abbreviate Bipolar Affective Disorder to B.A.D. instead preferring to simply describe almost anyone with erratic moods as bipolar. Popularity of the new label grew and drug companies thrived without any complaint that the label was being misinterpreted.

Bipolar caught the public’s imagination as those labelled with it seemed to so often have extraordinary talents. This for many fixed the idea that people could be ‘born bipolar’. The idea of an illness that can be both a gift and a curse was popularized. However, in all the autobiographies of famous ‘bipolar people’ I have read the authors write about life events leading to their variable mood and influencing what they achieved rather than any in-built special abilities.

In the 1990’s bipolar was increasingly ‘promoted’ (wittingly or unwittingly) by celebrities who either claimed to have, or were said to have, a mood disorder. The idea of, ‘the disorder is part of who I am’, helped promote the belief that it was something they were born with. These stories from or about celebrities often gave the impression that bipolar was something ‘special’ that could give musicians, actors and authors ‘an edge’ or even an advantage over non-bipolar artists and performers.

For the bipolar handbook I co-authored I needed to check the origins of many of the stories about ‘bipolar celebrities’. It was amazing to find how flimsy the evidence was, such as Sting (the song writing and lead singer with the group The Police) had been labelled as bipolar simply because he wrote a song that mentioned a chemical associated with bipolar that was being used by a friend of his. [It would be interesting to hear from Sting at this point with his version of how people started to talk about him being bipolar.]

Proliferation of psychiatric drugs that cause the symptoms of bipolar, allowed drug companies and psychiatry to create more definitions of bipolar mood disorders. The range of options for people being labelled bipolar grew with options such as ‘bipolar lite’ and ‘cyclothymia’ for those not experiencing traditional manic-depressive symptoms. This variety has allowed me to facilitate regular workshops since 2006 instructing nurses about the many possible diagnosis.

I have worked in one of the fastest growing industries on the planet… The bipolar industry! Yes, bipolar has been booming. It has been lucrative for many. There is a lot of money to be made from bipolar.

It is time for change

As mentioned above, bipolar is classed as a severe mental illness associated with shortened life expectancy. It is very serious and detrimental to health to even be labelled as bipolar as the drugs that go with the label tend to be prescribed indefinitely with serious consequences. If such a label is to exist at all it needs to be reserved for people who are very unwell and who can benefit from being singled out for specialist treatments.

Is it not more ethical to help people avoid the diagnosis even if we in the bipolar industry earn less money by doing so?

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Since 1955 #bipolarboom

Has there been an increase in people disabled by depression?

It is difficult to say for sure as there are so many ways of measuring disabled. Certainly mental health disability payments as a percentage of national income are increasing around the world. Organisations that support people with mental health difficulties are struggling with the numbers of people seeking help.

One way to look at the increase is by comparing figures for two years a long way apart as in this graph…

bipolar boom

Disabled by depression

I showed this as part of a presentation to 35 college staff.  I was surprised by the ferocity of response. I was told that the figures ‘do not compare like with like’. It is true. Ways of recording impairment have changed, yet don’t government agencies usually change the way they describe and measure things so that it looks like they are doing well? Here clearly things are not going well.

The second response was, “That is in USA and they have had a lot of wars in recent years.” I was a bit stunned by this then I remembered reading that there is a widespread belief that Americans for some unknown reason cannot cope with seeing and hearing about violent acts compared with the rest of the world. I feel the argument falls down when we consider America was heavily involved with the Korean war (25 June 1950 – armistice signed 27 July 1953), yet depression rates were low immediately after this war USA could not even claim to have won.

The third response was, “Why 1955?”. The top title on the graph explains this. It was just before the first drugs called ‘energizers’ became available to doctors. These powerful mood altering drugs had adverse effects. The boom in depression got under way. This was followed by the boom in bipolar disorder which is continuing worldwide today.

This recent article also uses 1955 as a reference point for the same reason. It is well worth reading. There are links to the scientific papers that prove depression is enhanced by drugs and bipolar is often caused mainly by taking drugs.

In researching for our book, (Bipolar Disorder: A guide for mental health professionals, carers and those who live with it’), I was surprised to find that doctors are still able to prescribe some of the very first 1958 style energizers , even though they were proved to be ineffective. Would you recognised these drugs if you were offered them?

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