Sir Patrick Vallance’s reference to ‘bipolar’ when referring to Boris Johnson’s decision-making is misleading and damaging

Statement from CEO of Bipolar UK, Simon Kitchen

We are disappointed and saddened by the flippant and damaging reference to bipolar by Sir Patrick Vallance in one of his diary entries when referencing Boris Johnson’s decision-making during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the government’s chief scientific advisor at the time, we would have expected a better understanding of the bipolar community and the challenges they live with on a daily basis.

His comments published in the UK media stating ‘it’s like bipolar decision-making’ show a lack of understanding and respect for the bipolar community who manage sustained periods of mania, stability and depression.

It is worrying that a medically trained senior government advisor with a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery would misuse and make light of bipolar as an inaccurate reference to a quickly changing ‘flip-flopping’ decision-making attitude.

The reinforcement of misleading references to bipolar only feeds the misunderstanding and prejudice that can be faced by those living with bipolar, many of whom are living a stable, positive and fulfilled life.

The impact of Covid-19 on people with bipolar and other mental health conditions was severe, with more than five times as many people affected by bipolar being hospitalised for suicide attempts as for Covid-19 itself between April 2020 and December 2020.

We hope that everyone, especially those at the top of our medical community, will in future seriously consider the impact of the language they use.

Bipolar is a severe mental illness characterised by extreme mood swings and changes in energy levels. Someone with bipolar can have long or short periods of stability but can then go ‘low’ (into deep depression) or ‘high’ (experiencing hypomania, mania or psychosis).

Bipolar affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds and there are over one million people living with the condition in the UK alone. 

Like many mental health conditions, bipolar symptoms are usually first noticeable in teenagers and young adults. Research has found that almost 50% of people get symptoms before the age of 21.

Bipolar UK is a stepping-stone on the journey for both someone living with bipolar, and their friends and family, and we want to ensure that everyone who has bipolar is equipped with all of the tools they need to live well with the condition. 

We provide three core peer support services for people living with bipolar: 76 peer support groups across the UK; one-to-one peer support via phone and email; and a moderated eCommunity where people can discuss challenges and ask questions.

We are here for anyone affected by bipolar. 

*Bipolar UK does not offer crisis support. If you are experiencing a crisis, please do not wait for your symptoms to get worse:

·       Contact emergency services on 999 and ask for police and ambulance

·       Contact your local Crisis Team or Single Point of Access

·       If you are under the care of your local mental health team you can contact them

·       Contact Samaritans free on 116 123 

Call NHS 111 and ask to speak to a mental health professional. 


Last updated: 5 October 2023