People with bipolar disorder wait an average of six years before getting a proper diagnosis, meaning crucial chances to manage the condition are being missed.
That’s the key finding from researchers at the University of New South Wales who reviewed 27 studies involving more than 9,000 patients.
“If you look at a population of people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they believe … that the first signs and onset of their illness was on average six years earlier than the time at which they were receiving treatment, or diagnosed, or admitted to hospital,” lead author Professor Matthew Large told the ABC.
That was certainly the case for television producer Adam Boland, a member of the AFFIRM Advisory Council.
“People described my erratic behaviour from late teenage years. I was aware of it and suffered at times but chose to ignore it. It caught up with me about a decade later,” he says.
Adam only received his diagnosis after suffering a major depressive episode in 2007.
Professor Large says diagnosis in young patients can be difficult because parents and doctors can sometimes put behaviour down to just being a teenager.
“The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can also be missed because it relies on a detailed life history and corroborative information from carers and family, information that takes time and care to gather,” he says.
It can also be difficult for doctors to distinguish between the depressed state of bipolar and other forms of depression.
The study recommends clinicians look more closely at a patient’s history.
Delays are “a lost opportunity because the severity and frequency of episodes can be reduced with medication and other interventions,” says Professor Large.