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From quicker diagnosis to better treatments – how we can improve the lives of people with bipolar

Despite affecting 1-3% of the population, it takes on average 10 years to receive an accurate diagnosis for bipolar. This World Bipolar Day, we share the thoughts of three people living with bipolar, from the difficulties they’ve encountered to their hopes for the future. 

Quicker diagnosis

It wasn’t until a decade after Annie’s symptoms started that she was diagnosed with the condition. Her hope is that quicker diagnoses could help people develop better ways to cope, and save lives lost to suicide. 

“I was officially diagnosed with bipolar II at the age of 23, over a decade after my symptoms first began – and over a year since I first sought help.

“If we can catch people’s illness when symptoms first arise then people will be in a better position to learn coping tools, which could even prevent suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death in young people – if we can remove the stigma and start improving diagnosis and treatment through research – then maybe we can reduce that.” Annie.

Improving treatments

Due to the number and variety of treatment options, and the lack of understanding about which will work for each individual, clinicians often have to rely on their own intuition and a ‘trial and error’ approach.

Unfortunately, this can leave people like Stephanie and Katerini facing years of ineffective treatment and life-altering side-effects.

“Although the medication I’m on at the moment is good, it’s not perfect. Over the years mixing and matching different psychiatric drugs has caused a cognitive impairment which will probably never improve. This has affected my career. If research could find better treatments with less side-effects, that could be life-changing for so many people in the mental health system.” Katerini.

“I’ve been on over thirteen different types of medication to help me with my mental health. Some gave me nosebleeds, blackouts, crippling headaches, sickness, hallucinations and the need to sleep for 48hrs. The one I’m on now is better, I’m able to focus more and it enabled me to start my own company as a celebrity manicurist. Life pressures are tougher these days so my doctors are still working to find the best combination of medications that can help me cope better with the symptoms.” Stephanie.

Parity with physical illness

We’ve seen extraordinary advances in the treatment of physical illnesses, but our understanding of mental illness and it’s causes lags woefully behind.

Katerini sees the potential that research holds for improving the lives of those affected by mental illness, and thinks it’s about time mental health got the same funding and support that physical health has seen.

"Research should be working towards making mental health equal to physical health – both in how treatments and in people’s attitudes towards them. I also have a stoma and for me, this really demonstrates the stigma that people facing mental illness encounter compared to people with physical health problems.

“If Cancer Research UK hadn’t been funded and supported like it has been, we wouldn’t have the breakthroughs and treatments we have for cancer. The same needs to be done for mental health.” Katerini.

Last updated: 27 April 2018


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