Background: Since recent NIMH Bipolar Disorder Workshops highlighted the dearth of longitudinal and controlled studies of bipolar illness, the Stanley Foundation Bipolar Network (SFBN) has recruited a large cohort of patients with bipolar disorder to begin to address these issues. This report describes the demographics and course of illness characteristics of this study population.
Methods: The first 261 outpatients to be diagnosed by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) and complete a detailed patient and a brief clinician questionnaire are described. All patients met DSM-IV criteria for bipolar I (n=211), bipolar II (n=42), or NOS (n=5) or schizoaffective (n=3), bipolar type. Chi-square and t-tests were used to examine statistically significant associations among important demographic and descriptive items.
Results: The general demographic and illness characteristics were similar to those in many bipolar clinical samples and not dissimilar from those reported in epidemiological surveys. The majority of patients had been hospitalized, with almost half reporting a worsening of illness over time, and two-thirds were not asymptomatic between episodes. First treatment for patients had been delayed by an average of 10 years from illness onset (by SCID). Almost a third of patients had attempted suicide at least once, and 30% reported current suicidal ideation at study entry. A total of 62% reported moderate to severe impact of the illness on occupational functioning. Early onset bipolar illness (< or =17 years old) was associated with increased frequency of mood switches, worsening course of illness, and history of early abuse (physical, verbal, or sexual).
Conclusion: The SFBN represents a sample of predominantly BP I patients largely recruited from the community who will be followed in detail longitudinally, participate in clinical trials, and thus help advance our understanding and treatment of this life-threatening medical disorder. While there is a broad range of illness characteristics and severity, the majority of patients have been severely impacted by their illness despite the availability of multiple conventional treatment approaches in the community. These data further underscore the need for development of new and earlier treatment interventions.
Limitation: The SFBN population is limited by the lack of random selection and represents a cohort willing to be treated and followed intensively in academic tertiary referral centers. While its characteristics are similar to many clinical study populations, the generalizability to non-clinic populations remains uncertain.