Desire And The Bipolar Identity

Bipolar disorder is on the rise. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists 1 in 100 people in the United Kingdom have it. According to more recent studies, the corrected figure may be something closer to 11 in every 100 people. That’s the figure Royal College gives for what could be what they call “the true prevalence”.

Note: 11 in 100 people are just over 1 in 10, or 10% of the population.

I suggest the figures might be much smaller than that if the media, pharmaceutical companies, the advertising industry, the psychiatric profession, mental health professionals, and other interested parties weren’t out to make a national pastime of it.

The genes for bipolar disorder are apparently not sex linked either as both men and women seem susceptible to it at equal rates.

I am taking my information from an article in Boots WebMD Health News with the curious title of Psychiatrists identify new phenomenon: “I want to be bipolar…” This article points to celebs Stephen Fry, Kerry Katona, and Paul Gascoigne, and claims their diagnoses have inspired a trend.

I’d like to add that here in the United States we have more than our share of bipolar stars, too. Patty Duke, Carrie Fisher, and Brian Wilson leap to mind when you consider the status of celebrated figures in the national Who’s Who of people with major mental illnesses.

Writing in The Psychiatrist Dr Diana Chan and Dr Lester Sireling who work in London say “We have noticed in our clinical practice a new and unusual phenomenon, where patients present to psychiatrists with self-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

“Recently, we have noticed numerous GP referrals to our service where the primary request has been for a psychiatric opinion on whether the patient may have bipolar disorder, as suggested by the patient’s own self-diagnosis.”

“Also common, but less so in our experience, is the patient who attends reluctantly at the instigation of family members who are convinced they have finally made the diagnosis that can explain the awkward or embarrassing behaviour of their relative. Both types of presentation were very uncommon until about three years ago.”

Confusingly enough, in this article a Dr. Peter Byrne, Director of Public Education at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, goes on to call bipolar disorder a “very rare illness.”

Well, I’m thinking, it must depend on who you ask. We’ve got statistics from the same article claiming 01% of the population has bipolar disorder, and a later 11% of the population may have bipolar disorder, regarded as a ‘truer’ figure, depending on who you ask. Further, it goes on to suggest that bipolar disorder is under diagnosed! As illnesses go, I doubt 11% would be construed as “very rare”.

The article claims that perhaps promoting the illness as less stigmatizing and more acceptable has lead to this spate in self-diagnosis. Optimism was expressed in the hope that if the stigma against this illness was waning, maybe the stigma against psychiatry as a profession was on the wane as well, and maybe more medical students would consider pursuing psychiatry as a career.

Keep your eye on that 11% figure. I see it getting antsy to climb a little higher already.