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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The blots keep showing through #bipolarlabel

I turn over a new leaf every day but the blots keep showing through is an idea from “Billy Liar by Laurie Lee?

I often feel my life is like this. Each day I try to live without bipolar disorder but it is always there. I do not believe I have a definable illness or disorder called bipolar, but what I have is a label… In the UK anyone labelled with bipolar disorder by the NHS is considered labelled for life. There is no system for removing the label no matter what we do. Yes, you can have a big argument with a psychiatrist and be relabeled with a personality disorder, but once labelled by a psychiatrist you can never get rid of the label. It stays on your health records for ever.

Why does this matter to me?

  1. It is very hard to forget… Not a day has gone by in the last 14 years when I have not thought about the consequences of having this label. In fact, I rarely go for a few minutes without remembering how I have been labelled. It is there at the front of my mind all the time. It is often difficult to think of anything else other than having this label that has been killing me.
  2. Being labelled as ‘severely mentally ill’ makes it very difficult to get back into meaningful work. A few people, such as Stephen Fry, are able to work without being held back by being labelled. For most of us though, employers find it hard to know what to do when a potential employee has been labelled as severely mentally ill.

Why mention this now?

Sometime soon I am going to be meeting with health professionals to discuss the severe anxiety I have been suffering in recent months. I am struggling as much as I was back in 1998, although without the mood swings induced by psychiatric drugs. These struggles with anxiety do not have to be labelled as bipolar disorder. Although I have learned a lot about coping I now have the health problems caused by having taking prescribed drugs, as well as the effects of having this label round my neck to contend with on top of the distress I am facing every day. I am not looking for medication. Some sort of therapy would be nice, but I am not good at explaining just how bad things have been so I am not expecting miracles.

I still have a vague hope that I can be ‘undiagnosed’. That somehow the psychiatrists can look back at my medical notes and say, “You know what, all those symptoms we saw are things that happen to people when they get very anxious and drugs are involved. I tell you what we are going to re-diagnose you as suffering from extreme anxiety.” Maybe they will decide that the stress I suffered was enough to cause PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as this has similar symptoms to bipolar.

It is a crazy idea. Just suggesting to a psychiatrist that you do not have the disorder they say you have is a dangerous thing to do.

Yes, I have met with critical doctors and critical psychiatrists who looking at my history can confirm to me that I do not naturally have extremes of mania and depression. However, these people are powerless to change my medical record. Only one man can do this. He is all powerful and it seems to me, he controls everything about how I will be living the rest of my life. I have never met him face to face and dread the prospect.

If he reads this, he will most likely pick up on my gloomy outlook… and a gloomy outlook will look to him like depression, to which he will be able to say, “That proves we were right all along, he is a typical manic depressive/bipolar person”.

I do keep trying. I do keep turning over a new leaf. Unfortunately the blot created in 1998 after taking one tranquilizer tablet that made me less tranquil, an ‘antipsychotic’ that made me psychotic, an ‘antidepressant’ that made me depressed and then high… is a blot that keeps on showing through.

Sorry to be so gloomy but it is true… at this time bipolar is for life… my advice to readers is try not to get the diagnosis in the first place.

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