01:30am Monday 25 May 2020

Psychiatrists identify new phenomenon: ‘I want to be bipolar…’

Dr Diana Chan and Dr Lester Sireling believe the trend is linked to increased public awareness of the disorder, as well as the willingness of celebrities such as Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams and Carrie Fisher to talk about their personal experiences of mood disorders. 

Writing in the March issue of The Psychiatrist, the psychiatrists say: “We have noticed in our clinical practice a new and unusual phenomenon, where patients present to psychiatrists with self-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

“Recently, we have noticed numerous GP referrals to our service where the primary request has been for a psychiatric opinion on whether the patient may have bipolar disorder, as suggested by the patient’s own self-diagnosis.

“Also common, but less so in our experience, is the patient who attends reluctantly at the instigation of family members who are convinced they have finally made the diagnosis that can explain the awkward or embarrassing behaviour of their relative. Both types of presentation were very uncommon until about 3 years ago.”

Explaining the phenomenon, Dr Chan and Dr Sireling say: “The increasing popularity of bipolar disorder may be attributed to increased media coverage, coupled with the high social status associated with celebrities such as Stephen Fry talking about their own personal experiences of mental illness. This appears to have promoted the disorder as less stigmatising and acceptable to the public, a phenomenon that may have an evolutionary basis.”

But Dr Chan and Dr Sireling say patients who ‘want to be bipolar’ may not always understand the consequences of being diagnosed with the disorder. These range from declaring the diagnosis to employers and medical insurance companies, to the side effects of some medication used to treat the disorder.

However, the psychiatrists conclude: “It can be considered equally harmful, if not more so, to miss a true bipolar diagnosis. Current evidence suggests that bipolar disorder may be under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed.”

About 1 in every 100 adults in the population has bipolar disorder at a given time. However, more recent studies suggest the true prevalence may be as high as 11 in every 100.

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Chan D and Sireling L (2010) ‘I want to be bipolar’…a new phenomenon, The Psychiatrist, 34: 103-105

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