What is bipolar?

Bipolar is a severe mental health condition characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows. The majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression.

  • 3 million people in the UK have bipolar. That is one in fifty people.1
    • 1% to 2% of the population experience a lifetime prevalence of bipolar and recent research suggests as many as 5% of us are on the bipolar spectrum.2,3
  • Bipolar is one of the UK’s commonest long-term conditions with almost as many people living with bipolar as cancer (2.4%), it is more than twice as common as dementia (0.8%), epilepsy (0.8%), autism (0.8%), rheumatoid arthritis (0.7%) and learning disabilities (0.5%).4
  • It takes an average 9 years to get a correct diagnosis of bipolar and there is a misdiagnosis an average of 3.5 times.5

  • There is no national register and the Quality Outcomes Framework, which judges GP performance, groups bipolar with schizophrenia and psychosis, making meaningful assessments of referral rates impossible.

  • Bipolar increases an individual’s risk of suicide by up to 20 times.

    • We estimated that at least 800 people with bipolar take their lives every year. Of the people with bipolar alive today in the UK, 70,000 will take their own life unless action is taken.6
    • The World Health Organisation identifies bipolar as one of the top causes of lost years of life and health in 15 to 44 year olds.7

  • Many people with bipolar continue to lack the basic support and treatment needed to live well with the condition.

    • 67% of people with bipolar received no self-management advice when they were first diagnosed.8
    • Anecdotally, many people with bipolar have experienced abuse in hospital and are dealing with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress.9
  • Just 21% of people with a long-term mental health condition are in employment.10
  • 90% of people with bipolar had told their employer about their condition but 24% of them regretted making that decision.11
  • Rates of positive screening for bipolar disorder were higher in non-employed people, in those receiving particular benefits, and in people living alone.

  • 4% of women on Employment Support Allowance screen positive for bipolar.12

  • 72% of people with bipolar knew no one else with the condition when they were first diagnosed.13

 

1 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.

2 Merikangas KR, Peters TL, Update on the Epidemiology of Bipolar Disorder. In Yatham LN, Maj M “Bipolar Disorder Clinical and Neurobiological Foundations”, Chapter 6, page 52-61. Wiley-Blackwell UK, 2010.

3 Lam, D.; Wright, K.; Smith, N. (2004). "Dysfunctional assumptions in bipolar disorder". Journal of Affective Disorders 79.

4 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014 and Quality and Outcomes Framework – Prevalence, England, 2015-16.

5 S. Nassir Ghaemi (2001). ‘Bipolar Disorder: How long does it usually take for someone to be diagnosed for bipolar disorder?’. Archived from the original on December 7, 2006. Retrieved February 20, 2007. 

6 5-6% of people with bipolar disorder will end their lives by suicide.

7 Murray, C. and Lopez, A. ed., (1996). The Global Burden of Disease: A comprehensive assessment of mortality and disability from diseases, injuries, and risk factors in 1990 and projected to 2020. 1st ed. Boston: The Harvard School of Public Health.

8 Bipolar UK self-management survey 2020.

9 First-hand experience of staff and Trustees.

10 Office for National Statistics. Social and Vital Statistics Division, Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Central Survey Unit. (2014). Quarterly Labour Force Survey, October - December, 2006. [data collection]. 5th Edition.

11 Bipolar UK self-management survey, April 2020.

12 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.

13 Bipolar UK self-management survey 2020.