Getting proper treatment early is beneficial for people with bipolar disorder in many ways. Treatment can include pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, aid from a social worker or educating the patient on what exactly bipolar disorder entails and ways to manage it. The greatest barrier for patients in getting treatment is delayed diagnosis. Patients wait an average of 10-12 years before receiving an initial diagnosis. By that time the illness can have irrevercible, negative consequences, which is why it is vital for physicians to recognize symptoms of bipolar disorder so patients can benefit from earlier treatment.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Symptoms of bipolar disorder typically begin in late teen years to early adulthood, though up to 3% of adolescents may also have the illness. Bipolar disorder consists of mood shifts between depressionand mania or hypomania. These shifts are unpredictable. For example, a person may have frequent depressive episodes and rare manic episodes or the mood swings may alternate between depression and mania.
Many people with bipolar II disorder may not recognize hypomania and therefore only seek help for depression, which can lead to an initial misdiagnosis. Around 40% of bipolar disorder patients are hospitalized for either manic, depressive or psychotic symptoms, which is where many receive their initial diagnosis. Sixty percent of people with bipolar disorder report having received up to four misdiagnoses previous to the correct diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
There are considerable ramifications for delayed initial diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
- If patients are prescribed antidepressants with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, this can trigger manic or hypomanic episodes.
- Healthcare costs can increase dramatically due to more frequent hospitalizations.
- People with untreated bipolar disorder are more likely that those receiving treatment to miss work or have a decrease in productivity.
- People go undiagnosed have more frequent, longer and more severe episodes than those being treated for bipolar disorder.
- The rate of suicide attempts in bipolar disorder patients is around 25%. Without treatment, that risk increases.
In addition to avoiding the consequences of a lack of treatment, there are multiple benefits to treating bipolar disorder as soon as possible.
- Adding psychological therapy to medication early on can cut relapse rates by around 40%.
- Initiating treatment during the first 10 years of the illness decreases the number of recurrences over the patient’s lifetime by half.
- Patients respond faster to treatment when initiated early versus the time it takes treatment to take effect later in life.
- Patients are less likely to receive harmful treatments when bipolar disorder is correctly diagnosed.
- Early treatment with lithium can provide neuroprotective qualities that can help with better overall cognitive function.
- First episode hospital stays tend to be shorter than those for patients who have had multiple episodes.
- Receiving psychoeducation about bipolar disorder can increase a patient’s likelihood of continuing beneficial treatment.
- Patients who are treated early have better social functioning than those who receive treatment later in life, which can lead to better relationships, work environments and overall ability to care for themselves.
Primary care physicians and psychiatric professionals should screen for bipolar disorder with all patients that present with depressive symptoms. Not all patients are aware of the existence of mania or hypomania and therefore may not know to report any symptoms related to that side of bipolar disorder. The benefits of early treatment are owed to people with bipolar disorder so they can have the best quality of life possible while living with such a difficult illness.