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The questions we all ask about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition that most people know very little about. There are numerous myths surrounding it, all of which blur and confuse our perceptions of the condition.

So we thought we’d take the questions of the world on bipolar – as decided by google – and answer them one by one for you.

Is bipolar disorder … real?

The answer is yes. It affects 1 in every 100 people in the UK, and millions of people have the condition all over the world.

Despite popular conceptions, it is not the same as split personality disorder. It involves mood swings, between lows (characterised by depression or despair); manic periods (characterised by over-activity or anger); and mixed-state periods, where both depression and mania can exist. Some people will also have psychotic episodes too.

Stephen Fry describes it better though, when he says having bipolar “is like a weather in your head – when it is raining, it is raining, [but] you have to believe that it will get better the next day”.

Is bipolar … hereditary?

There is research to suggest that bipolar does have a hereditary element, with family members at higher risk: 

Children with one parent who has bipolar disorder are 15 – 25% more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history of bipolar disorder.

But we don’t know enough about the reasons behind this. More research is desperately needed if we are going to truly understand the genetic links.

Is bipolar … serious?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Bipolar disorder has a lasting impact on those individuals affected, as well as their families and friends too.

75% of those living with bipolar disorder are also likely to have at least one other type of condition, including anxiety disorders; substance misuse; personality disorders; or ADHD.

But most alarmingly, bipolar kills. Those living with bipolar disorder are at higher risk of self-harm or suicide than the rest of the population. 1 in 4 of those with the most severe type of bipolar (bipolar disorder type 1) have a reported history of attempted suicide.

For these reasons, it is so important that those affected get a correct diagnosis and the right treatments and support to help them cope with the ups and downs that come with the condition. Bipolar can be managed, but has to properly diagnosed and treated.

Is bipolar … a disability?

Bipolar is officially classified as a disability. This is because it can have a long-term impact on normal day-to-day activity of those affected. In fact it is listed as the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide.

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What’s clear is that bipolar is a condition which has a huge impact on the lives of everyone affected.

Treatments exist, but they have to be improved. And the diagnosis of bipolar is nowhere near good enough. It takes almost 11 years on average for people to receive a correct diagnosis.

Why? For decades not enough money or priority has been given to research into the condition. MQ are here to change this.

Last year MQ and other research funders hosted an event to start to address these challenges. Bringing together the world leaders in bipolar research – for the first time in 20 years – to prioritise what research is needed and how it should be approached.

Last updated: 1 June 2016

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© MQ: Transforming mental health 2016 | Registered charity in England / Wales: 1139916 & Scotland: SC046075 | Company number: 7406055