Global Look at Bipolar Disorder

Better bipolar detection and treatment resources needed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Bipolar disorder and symptoms are found throughout the world, but people throughout the world may not have access to mental health treatment.

The World Health Organization's World Mental Health (WMH) survey compiled data from 11 countries to determine the impact of bipolar spectrum disorders. It was the first study to use the same criteria and methods to measure the prevalence of this serious mental illness.

"Most people with bipolar disorders don't get help."

The survey revealed the following:

  • The United States had the highest prevalence rate of bipolar spectrum, 4.4 percent, while India had the lowest rate, 0.1 percent.
  • More than half of those with bipolar disorder noted that their illness began in their adolescent years
  • 75 percent of those who had bipolar symptoms also least one other mental disorder
  • Anxiety disorders, especially panic disorder, were the most common disorders found in people with bipolar disorder
  • Behavior disorders and substance use disorders were also found to coexist (occur at the same time)
  • Less than half of those with bipolar symptoms received mental health treatment
  • In low income countries, only 25 percent reported having contact with a mental health professional

This study highlights the international impact of bipolar disorder and the need for better recognition and treatment availability.

The findings also support the notion that, because there are so many dimensions to the disease, bipolar disorder may be better defined as a spectrum disorder.

In addition, because so many people said that their illness began in adolescence, more emphasis should be placed on early detection, treatment, and possible prevention of other coexisting disorders.

Bipolar spectrum disorders include:

  • Bipolar 1, the classic form of the illness where people experience recurring episodes of extreme highs (mania) and lows (depression)
  • Bipolar II, where people experience milder forms of mania and depression
  • Bipolar disorder not otherwise specificed (NOS), where the symptoms of mania and depression do not meet strict criteria of the disorder
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 6, 2011
Last Updated:
May 10, 2011