2007 Bipolar Disorder Awareness Campaign Emphasizes Importance of Accurate Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery

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The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) launches its 2007 Bipolar Disorder Awareness campaign, emphasizing the importance of accurate diagnosis and treatment for people living with bipolar disorder, including the role of mania and depression.

NAMI - Bipolar Awareness Day

Oftentimes the early signs of bipolar disorder are mistaken for careless behavior or depression, which unfortunately means that many people living with this illness go undiagnosed for up to ten years

The National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI) today launched its fifth annual Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day, emphasizing the need for accurate diagnosis and treatment. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which affects an estimated 10 million Americans, experience alternating episodes of mania (severe highs), depression (severe lows) and mixed states which contain elements of both. Unfortunately, seven out of ten people with bipolar disorder receive at least one misdiagnosis, and many wait years for accurate diagnosis.

Young adults may be particularly at risk for misdiagnosis. Due in part to the early age of onset, the extreme mood shifts that are symptomatic of bipolar disorder may be thought of as "teenage irritability," whereas manic stages may simply be thought of as elevated levels of excitement. In fact, 90 percent of people with bipolar disorder have been reported to experience onset before the age of 20.

"Oftentimes the early signs of bipolar disorder are mistaken for careless behavior or depression, which unfortunately means that many people living with this illness go undiagnosed for up to ten years," said Kenneth Duckworth, M.D., NAMI medical director and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "With accurate diagnosis, people with bipolar disorder can and do reclaim their lives. It is important for people with mental illness, as well as those who care for them, to remember that they can lead full and productive lives with the right treatment program."

Part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day was created to educate Americans about bipolar disorder in an effort to raise awareness, promote early detection and accurate diagnosis, and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

Accurate Diagnosis & Treatment Are Key
If mania and depression are left untreated, people with bipolar disorder are at great risk for suicide, substance abuse, incarceration, and other harmful consequences. In fact, the mortality rate for people with untreated bipolar disorder is higher than it is for most types of heart disease and many types of cancer.

But with accurate diagnosis and treatment, people with bipolar disorder have better treatment success rates (80 percent) than people with heart disease (45 percent). Essential components of the treatment process for people living with bipolar disorder include medication, psychotherapy, support groups, and education about the illness. It is estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of people with bipolar disorder can be treated effectively with medication and psychotherapy.

Mania & Depression Equally Destructive
Though often overlooked or misunderstood, mania can be just as destructive as depression. While someone experiencing an episode of mania may feel productive and self-confident, mania can also cause reckless decision-making that can have long-term consequences (financial, relationships, etc). Conversely, when depressed, people with bipolar disorder may experience a profoundly sad, irritable or 'flat' mood, losing interest in usual activities. Depression can also be physically debilitating, preventing a person with bipolar disorder from even getting out of bed.

When untreated, people with bipolar disorder are at great risk for suicide; approximately 25-50 percent of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once, one of the highest rates for any psychiatric disorder. Nearly 40 percent of those left untreated abuse alcohol and drugs, making it extremely difficult to hold down a steady job and in some instances, end up incarcerated.

About NAMI
NAMI supports a national grassroots effort to transform America's mental health care system, combat stigma, support research and attain adequate health insurance, housing, rehabilitation, jobs and family support for millions of Americans living with mental illnesses. NAMI's 1,100 affiliates are dedicated to public education, advocacy and support and receive generous donations from tens of thousands of individuals as well as grants from government, foundations and corporations. NAMI's greatest asset, however, is its volunteers - who donate an estimated $135 million worth of their time each year.

Signs of Bipolar Disorder
Characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning, bipolar disorder is a chronic condition and generally requires life-long treatment. Symptoms of mania include: increased physical and mental activity and energy; heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence; excessive irritability and aggressive behavior; decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue; racing speech and thought, flight of ideas; impulsiveness, impaired judgment, and distractibility; and reckless behavior, such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretions, and/or alcohol abuse.

Depression may be characterized by loss of energy; prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells; changes in appetite and sleep patterns; increased feelings of worry and anxiety; feelings of guilt or hopelessness; inability to concentrate or make decisions; social withdrawal; thoughts of suicide; and/or use of chemical substances or alcohol.

About Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day
This marks the fifth annual Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day, which was created by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and is sponsored by Abbott Laboratories through an unrestricted educational grant. The program aims increase awareness of bipolar disorder, promote early detection and accurate diagnosis, and reduce stigma, with the ultimate goal of increasing public commitment to early intervention and provision of effective treatments.

Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day is part of NAMI's Mental Illness Awareness Week. For additional information on bipolar disorder or Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day, please visit http://www.nami.org/miaw.

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Katrina Gay

Kasey Pickett
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