Living with bipolar disorder is often a difficult balancing act. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Chelsea Oakes/Flickr)

What do Isaac Newton, Beethoven, John Keats, Abraham Lincoln and Vincent Van Gogh all have in common? Medical experts believe that they all suffered from bipolar disorder. This manic-depressive mental condition affects 2.4 percent of people worldwide, and according to a recent World Health Organization study, the U.S. is the most bipolar nation on Earth, residence to 4.4 percent of all known bipolar spectrum disorder cases.

WHO study measured different types of bipolarity

The bipolar disorder study conducted by the World Health Organization interviewed nearly 62,000 people from 11 different countries. In addition to the United States, people from India, China, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico and Romania were considered. The U.S. had the highest percentage of reported bipolar disorder cases at any time in life with 4.4 percent, although the figure decreased to 2.8 percent when the time frame for bipolar manifestation was reduced to the past 12 months. The U.S. led the world within that time frame, too.

Suicide attempts more common among bipolar

The WHO study, which was published in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, measured data collected between 2002 and 2007. One of the more disturbing things researchers discovered is that as high as 25 percent of study respondents suffering from bipolar type I or type II – where severe to slightly milder mood swings are common – had attempted suicide. The mental angst alone is debilitating. As the study puts it,

“Bipolar disorder is responsible for the loss of more disability-adjusted life-years than all forms of cancer or major neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.”

WHO study researchers concluded that treatment needs for bipolar spectrum disorder sufferers frequently go unmet. This is particularly true in low-income countries.

The many sides of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder falls within an entire spectrum of mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Type I, which is considered the classic form of bipolar disorder, involves intense, recurring fluctuations between mania and depression. Type II is a milder version that mental health experts call hypomania, where the sufferer teeters between less intense bouts of mania and depression. A variation of the two is BD-NOS, or sub-threshold bipolar disorder, is similar to Type II but does not strictly adhere to DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) definitions of bipolarity.

Sources

Archives of General Psychology http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/68/3/241?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=bipolar&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT
Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-bipolar-disorder-worldwide-20110309,0,6100635.story?track=rss
National Institute of Mental Health http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2011/international-impact-of-bipolar-disorder-highlights-need-for-recognition-and-better-treatment-availability.shtml
On Being Bipolar http://www.morgalis.com/bipolar/index.htm
Wikipedia entry for bipolar disorder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipolar_disorder

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