Objective: To assess the experience of selected individuals living with bipolar disorder and compare this experience with that of a similar group of individuals sampled in 1992.
Method: In June 2000, 4192 self-administered questionnaires were sent to National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association chapters for distribution to support group participants diagnosed with bipolar disorder. By July 31, 2000, the first 600 completed surveys were analyzed.
Results: Over one third of respondents sought professional help within 1 year of the onset of symptoms. Unfortunately, 69% were misdiagnosed, with the most frequent misdiagnosis being unipolar depression. Those who were misdiagnosed consulted a mean of 4 physicians prior to receiving the correct diagnosis. Over one third waited 10 years or more before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Despite having underreported manic symptoms, more than half believe their physicians' lack of understanding of bipolar disorder prevented a correct diagnosis from being made earlier. In 2000, the respondents reported a greater negative impact of bipolar disorder on families, social relationships, and employment than did the respondents in 1992. Overall, respondents were satisfied with their current treatment, which often included medication, talk therapy, and support groups. Respondents who were highly satisfied with their treatment provider had a more positive outlook on their illness and their ability to cope with it.
Conclusion: Individuals with bipolar disorder reported that the illness manifests itself early in life but that accurate diagnosis lags by many years. The illness exacts great hardships on the individual and the family and has a profoundly negative effect on careers. These findings are very similar to those reported nearly a decade ago.