A new national online survey finds that for individuals living with bipolar disorder, their greatest concern is that their symptoms will impact daily life, such as family, relationships, or job.
In particular, about 9 in 10 patients — 89 percent — said they have canceled social engagements because of bipolar depression.
In addition, most people with bipolar disorder reported that bipolar depressive symptoms affected their ability to manage housework (73 percent) and run errands (59 percent).
This online survey was commissioned by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare and AstraZeneca — the maker of medications for bipolar disorder — to better understand the impact of bipolar depression on people’s lives.
Bipolar disorder may affect approximately 8 million American adults. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings from lows, called bipolar depression, to highs, called bipolar mania or hypomania. There are two primary types of bipolar diagnosis: bipolar I and bipolar II. Those with bipolar II disorder experience hypomanic episodes, rather than full-blown mania.
Many people with bipolar disorder report spending more time in the depressive phase — which includes feelings of sadness and emptiness, depressed moods and inability to concentrate — than in the manic phase.
This fact was confirmed in the online survey, with 61 percent of people with bipolar disorder saying their depressive episodes last longer than their manic episodes.
“This survey clearly demonstrates that many people with bipolar disorder are feeling the effects of bipolar depression in their day-to-day lives,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.
“Bipolar disorder is a manageable disease, but there are a number of factors that can get in the way of successful treatment.”
In fact, the online survey revealed some communication challenges that people with bipolar disorder have with their physicians.
For example, 41 percent of patients said they wished they could be more open about their bipolar depression symptoms with their health care professional. In addition, 72 percent of physicians agreed that many of their patients don’t know how to accurately describe their bipolar depression symptoms.
“Strong communication between patients and physicians is one of the most critical factors in effectively managing bipolar disorder,” said Rosenberg.
“From a patient perspective, it’s important to share all symptoms and experiences so your doctor has a detailed picture of your day-to-day life. In turn, physicians can encourage patients to be true partners in developing an appropriate treatment plan to successfully manage their bipolar depression.”
Not every patient is comfortable sharing this kind of information with their regular doctor. In such cases, the person should seek out the care of a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Such mental health professionals are specially trained to diagnose and treat bipolar disorder.
Rosenberg also recommended the following steps for patients to strengthen communication with their health care professional:
- Describe how you’re feeling to the best of your ability. It’s OK if you don’t know the clinical language — just use your own words.
- Jot down any questions and concerns you have beforehand so you don’t forget them.
- Don’t hesitate to share anything and everything with your doctor, even if it feels personal or unimportant. Your doctor is best-equipped to help you when he or she has all the information.
- Work with your doctor to set expectations and goals for your treatment. For many patients, these may be “everyday” goals, like getting back to a regular work schedule or spending more time with family and friends.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. Left untreated, it can be debilitating and even life-threatening in some. Effective treatment options are readily available, and usually include a mood stabilizing medication (such as lithium). Some people also seem to benefit from psychotherapy.