30 March 2024

On World Bipolar Day (30 March 2024), the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Bipolar UK are calling on Government to urgently reduce unacceptable waiting times for diagnosis, so that people with bipolar can get on with their lives and make their fullest contribution to society.

We call on the Government to make the UK the most bipolar-friendly country in the world by making and delivering on the following 4 commitments:

1. Reduce the average delay to diagnosis from 9.5 years down to 5 years, within 5 years. This could include public awareness campaigns and specialist diagnosis centres for referrals from primary care.

2. Provide a specialist care pathway for bipolar patients. This would be on a par with early interventions for psychosis services, it would be psychiatrist-led, with support from mental health nurses, and would prioritise continuity of care and peer support.

3. Develop standards for bipolar care and data collection. These could be regularly audited by an independent third party, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

4. Provide effective psychoeducation for everyone with bipolar. This would mean rolling out self-management courses (covering treatment, sleep, hygiene, dietary advice etc) across the country.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne OBE, Registrar at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“Bipolar leaves people in a state of emotional colour blindness that means they are unable to tell what is coming next, and throws their lives into chaos. Without timely treatment, people are left desperately waiting to come up for air.

“It’s simply unacceptable that people with bipolar can be forced to wait up to ten years to receive a diagnosis. Symptoms often first occur during early adulthood, when people rightly have their hearts set on forging a stable, productive life. Instead, they have to look on while their peers forge the relationships, careers and prospects they can only dream of.

“We know that people with bipolar can respond very quickly to the right treatment and get their lives back on track. However, establishing a bipolar diagnosis can be complex and can take time, making it imperative that people are assessed as early as possible.

“Without additional resource to bring down waiting lists, people with bipolar will carry on experiencing years of needless suffering.”

Simon Kitchen, Chief Executive Officer at Bipolar UK, said:

“People with bipolar need and deserve early diagnosis, specialist treatment, continuity of care, peer support and effective self-management advice. This will dramatically reduce the risk of severe bipolar episodes and empower people to lead good long lives with minimal ongoing clinical support.

"Making these changes will be a win-win for the patient, their family, their employers and the NHS, helping to improve lives, save money and, most importantly, save lives."


  • More than one million – 1 in 50 people – live with bipolar in Britain.
  • For each person living with the condition, a further five family members and friends are profoundly impacted.
  • People with bipolar are significantly at greater risk of physical illness and, on average, die 10-15 years younger
  • It takes an average of 9.5 years to get an accurate diagnosis of bipolar in the UK.
  • During this lost decade, people living with undiagnosed bipolar are at risk of losing their jobs, relationships, homes and lives.

In a series of surveys, the Bipolar Commission found:

  • two-thirds of people with bipolar had lost a job.
  • people with bipolar are twice as likely to be divorced.
  • 15% of people had lost their home and 12% were made homeless.
  • two thirds had been hospitalised and a third had been sectioned.
  • a third (34%) had attempted suicide due to this prolonged delay to getting a diagnosis.

Last updated: 30 March 2024