Background: In recent years, much progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia and depression. Bipolar disorder, however, remains frequently misunderstood, leading to inconsistent diagnosis and treatment. Why is the case? What is to be done about it?
Methods: We critically review studies in the nosology of bipolar disorder and the effects of antidepressant agents.
Results: Bipolar disorder is underdiagnosed and frequently misdiagnosed as unipolar major depressive disorder. Antidepressants are probably overused and mood stabilisers underused. Reasons for underdiagnosis include patients' impaired insight into mania, failure to involve family members in the diagnostic process, and inadequate understanding by clinicians of manic symptoms. We propose using a mnemonic to aid in diagnosis, obtaining family report, and utilising careful clinical interviewing techniques given the limitations of patients' self-report. We recommend aggressive use of mood stabilisers, and less emphasis on antidepressants.
Conclusions: The state of diagnosis and treatment in bipolar disorder is suboptimal. More diagnostic attention to manic criteria is necessary and the current pattern of use of antidepressant use in bipolar disorder needs to change.