U.S. Bipolar Rates Rank Worst of 11 Countries
Bipolar disorder or manic depression is a mood disorder that is known to cause moments of intense, erratic energy known as mania followed by bouts of depression. Sometimes depression and mania can be experienced together. Extreme manic episodes can lead to grandiose thoughts and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations. Those suffering from the illness are more likely to have problems with substance abuse and are at higher risk for suicide. Treatment is usually in the form of medication and psychiatric therapy.
Bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects many people worldwide, regardless of culture. While the disorder is defined differently among different countries, researchers used the same criteria for the analysis. For diagnosis, researchers used information from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered to be the bible of mental illnesses. Interviews were conducted with over 61,000 individuals in 11 countries.
The highest rate of bipolar disorder was reported in the United States, while the lowest rate was found in India. Researchers found that 4.4% of those residing in the U.S. had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. This compares to only 0.1 percent of Indians suffering from the illness.
There were many similarities shared by those with the disorder, regardless of where they lived. Symptoms were comparable. Also, those diagnosed with manic depression usually had another mental illness such as anxiety disorder - namely panic attacks. Most of those diagnosed with depression or mania reported that the illness interfered with their ability to function in everyday life, both in the context of work and personal relationships.
The paradox is that less than half of those with the illness were seeking treatment from a health professional. Those numbers were even worse for low-income countries. The study found that most high income countries reported higher rates of bipolar disorder while low income countries reported lower rates.
Experts believe that both innate and environmental factors play a role in diagnosis of the disorder. Some countries have higher negative stigmas when it comes to discussing mental health issues. As a result, those countries with higher negative stigmas had less cases of the illness that were reported.
In the United States, the high rates of diagnosis could be a culmination of many factors. First, there is a higher awareness of the disorder, which facilitates easier diagnosis. The stigma is also less than many low-income countries. Others speculate that culture plays a part. With more independence and mobility comes less social structure and dependence on familial support.
There is also a theory that attributes the higher rates to the fact that the U.S. is a melting pot of individuals from different cultures. In his book, "The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America," Dr. John D. Gartner talks about hypomanic characteristics of those who left their countries and everything they had to pursue a better life in America. Many that come here have grandiose illusions of greatness not necessarily grounded in reality. Could these qualities be the result of bipolar disorder? Some seem to think so.
While understanding of bipolar disorder is increasing, we still have a long way to go. A proper understanding of the illness can help us increase awareness, develop better treatments, and identify the symptoms so that those suffering can seek help.