Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness. Combining both mania and depression, those with any of the subtypes of bipolar disorder can struggle to process information properly, behave according to social norms and perform as normal at work or school.
For those living with bipolar disorder, it’s easy to feel isolated or alone in the complex emotional fluctuations that often accompany diagnosis. However, it’s important to realize that there are millions of other Americans who also have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder who are working to manage the symptoms. By understanding these bipolar stats — like how nearly three million individuals in the United States live with one of the three bipolar disorder subtypes — it becomes easier to approach treatment with a perspective of hope.
Bipolar Disorder in the World of Mental Health
Mental illness comes in countless shapes and sizes, with around one in five adults in America living with a mental illness and one in 25 living with a severe mental illness. This means that around 50 million individuals experience side effects of mental illness on a daily basis. The long-standing stigma against speaking about or treating mental illness in the United States has minimized the significance of this number, but as society changes, so do national perceptions on mental health.
While there are hundreds of variations of mental disorders — not including co-occurring disorders, multiple different illnesses occurring simultaneously — some are statistically more common than others. Anxiety disorder is the number one mental illness category by the numbers, with around 42 million Americans facing conditions like general anxiety disorder or specific phobias. Depression ranks at number two, with around 16 million individuals affected.
As stated, bipolar disorder affects over six million American adults — a significant number of people. As the third most prominent category of mental illness, bipolar disorder plays a large role in the mental health landscape both domestically and around the world.
However, bipolar is complicated by the overlap with other mental illnesses. It is not uncommon for symptoms to be interpreted as depression, anxiety disorders or even schizophrenia before a proper diagnosis is reached, indicating that these numbers may be understating the true prevalence of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder by Demographic
As with many mental and physical conditions, some demographics are more predisposed to developing illnesses than others.
Bipolar affects men and women roughly equally, but those between the ages of 18 and 34 are most heavily affected at around 4.7% of the population. This drops off by age 60, at which point less than 1% of the population demonstrated diagnosable signs. Of those who have bipolar disorder, over 80% can be classified as severe, meaning they experience symptoms that can significantly interfere with daily life.
Bipolar disorder can also be present among adolescents. Among teens, women are more likely to display symptoms, at 3.3% in females versus 2.6% in males. Incidence is higher among those 17 to 18 — 4.3% of those in this age range display diagnosable symptoms while those 13 to 14 show symptoms at a rate of 1.3%.
Bipolar Disorder From a Global Perspective
Bipolar disorder is far from a condition that only affects Americans; individuals from every country in the world may find themselves facing symptoms of bipolar disorder.
As of 2017, an estimated 46 million individuals worldwide have bipolar disorder. Incidence worldwide is a little higher in women than in men, at a rate of 52% to 48%. Based on population share, Brazil, Australia and Finland have the highest rates of bipolar disorder diagnoses. Many Asian countries have a lower incidence rate — in China, around .4% of the citizens will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, this does not take into account potential roadblocks in diagnoses; in some countries, biases against mental illness may obscure true incidence rates.
Bipolar Disorder Comorbidities
Mental illness does not tend to exist in a vacuum. This means that if someone has a mental condition like bipolar disorder, this diagnosis does not preclude the diagnosis of additional mental health challenges. Unfortunately, in terms of bipolar disorder, the existence of comorbidities is often the rule, not the exception. Due to the challenging nature of managing symptoms, it’s not uncommon for those living with bipolar disorder to experience effects of other mental illnesses.
Regarding bipolar disorder, the most common comorbidities include:
- Anxiety disorder
- Substance abuse
- Conduct disorders
- Tourette syndrome
It is fully possible for those with bipolar disorder to have multiple co-occurring disorders or to have none. As with most medical conditions, how symptoms manifest can vary greatly from one person to another.
The Dangers of Bipolar Disorder
Mental illness can be a challenging issue, especially for those who attempt to separate mental and physical illness into two separate buckets with no overlap. Physical illness is often seen as “true” illness while mental health disorders are seen as all in one’s head, so to speak. In reality, mental illness is just as real and serious as physical conditions and can affect health and well-being in many different ways. Without proper treatment, those living with bipolar disorder may find themselves facing numerous challenges.
The extreme symptoms that can accompany bipolar disorder can influence numerous other aspects of health, and many for the worst. When left untreated, bipolar disorder can contribute to:
- Increased frequency of migraines, asthma, bronchitis and chronic fatigue
- Increased mortality rate of two to three times for conditions concerning the endocrine, cardiovascular or cerebrovascular systems
- Elevated risks of suicide
Bipolar Disease Treatment
Treatment for bipolar disorder can take numerous forms, including:
- Medical Intervention: While illnesses are often thought of as being physical or mental, the body is a single unit. This means that physical ailments can affect psychological symptoms. Prior to a treatment plan focused on addressing mental illness, a thorough medical exam is advised to ensure symptoms aren’t derived from a physical problem.
- Psychotherapy: Therapy for bipolar disorder can play a pivotal role in helping individuals come to terms with a diagnosis, identify triggers and cope with changing emotions and motivations. Therapy can be an individual event or a group event depending on circumstances.
- Medication: Medication also plays a key part in addressing mental illness diagnoses like bipolar disorder. From antidepressants to benzodiazepines, there are many medications that doctors may consider when making the choice to treat patients with bipolar disorder.
- Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle plays a large role in wellness, both mental and physical. As a part of treatment, doctors and counselors may suggest more exercise and a healthier diet to attempt to mitigate circumstances that may be contributing to mental illness.
Bipolar disorder manifests differently from one person to the next. As such, there is no universal treatment. One person may see improvements from therapy alone, but others may require numerous medications to see relief. When in treatment, it’s important to remain patient and continue to try new opportunities to see what may work for you.
With proper care, bipolar disorder can be quite treatable; around 80% of those who seek professional treatment will see a remission in symptoms.
Due to the significant effort and trial and error that goes into bipolar treatment, the cost can be quite high; bipolar treatment on a national level can cost as much as $45 million annually.
Public Opinion of Bipolar Disorder
Unfortunately, like many other mental illnesses, public perception of bipolar disorder is not positive. Far too many people believe that mental health is, all puns aside, in one’s head. As such, those with a diagnosis are often judged or marginalized for their diagnosis.
However, there is light on the horizon. As mental illness is normalized in modern culture, more people understand the realities of bipolar disorder rather than the pop culture stereotypes. This opens the door for a more accepting future for all who receive a mental illness diagnosis, from bipolar to depression and beyond. In the interim, those with bipolar disorder are encouraged to educate friends and family, speak out about discrimination and mischaracterization and continue promoting equality for all who live with mental health disorders day in and day out.
Treating mental illness is never easy but the right rehabilitation center can make a difference. At FHE Health, we are able to provide a safe, supportive environment for those working through the challenges that come with mental health disorders. Our unique and comprehensive step-down program can assist those with bipolar disorder, offering both inpatient and outpatient support for the best possible outcomes. Please contact us today to learn more.