26 October 2023

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have identified a new 'proof of concept' for a blood test that identifies biomarkers to indicate bipolar.  


If a simple blood test is introduced into the pathway to diagnosis, it would be ground-breaking for our community, significantly lowering the number of people who are misdiagnosed with unipolar depression and reducing the average delay to diagnosis from its current 9.5 years.  


Currently, bipolar can only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist after a full assessment to ask about current symptoms, previous symptoms, medical background and family history of mental illness. A blood test alongside this assessment would mean quicker and more accurate diagnosis.


Why quicker diagnosis is so important

Earlier diagnosis is vital because a delayed diagnosis of bipolar often means years of living with untreated, often debilitating symptoms, which can disrupt education, work, and social and family life. In a survey, 60% of people said the delay in diagnosis had a significant impact on their lives.  


A delayed diagnosis also increases the risk of suicide. The longer people wait, the higher the risk – 36% of our community have told us that they had attempted suicide because of the delay.


Would our community welcome a blood test?  

When we asked our community if they would take a blood test either to get a diagnosis of bipolar, or to confirm their existing diagnosis of bipolar, 91% said yes.   


The main reason people with a bipolar diagnosis gave for welcoming this test is that when they’re taking medication and living well with the condition, they question whether they even really have the condition and if they need to take medication, which can often trigger side-effects.  


One respondent said, 'I would love a blood test to confirm my bipolar diagnosis instead of a subjective opinion'. 


Another respondent told us, 'I would take a test to confirm my diagnosis so I know I’m getting the treatment that’s right for me'. 

However, one respondent expressed a note of caution: "I wouldn’t take a blood test. I have been diagnosed for nearly 10 years and through medication and therapy have only got to a point of recovery working in peer involvement work in the last year or two. If this blood test confirmed that I didn’t have the diagnosis I fought for, I would worry they would change the treatment which works I believe that treatment is more helpful than labels for me personally."

One step further 

As well as improving diagnostic accuracy and speeding up diagnosis, this blood test could potentially also open the door to identifying people at risk of developing bipolar.  


Many people in our community would also welcome this possibility. In October 2021, the Bipolar Commission found that 71% of survey respondents would welcome a genetic test to provide a definitive assessment of whether or not someone has the underlying genetics for bipolar.

We are optimistic, but have questions

While both of these possibilities would be immeasurably beneficial for our community, we would like to understand more about likely timescales and implementation.

When will this blood test be available? How would the NHS ensure they can provide the necessary resources to carry out the testing and provide the specialist information and support that would need to go with it to ensure someone can live well with the condition.