Rise in self-diagnosis of bipolar disorder: research

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Psychiatrists in Britain claim to have discovered a new phenomenon -- people diagnosing themselves with bipolar disorder, according to research published on Monday.

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Psychiatrists in Britain claim to have discovered a new phenomenon - people diagnosing themselves with bipolar disorder, according to research published on Monday.

Celebrities talking publicly about suffering from the illness are linked to the rise in self-diagnosis, London-based psychiatrists Dr Diana Chan and Dr Lester Sireling said.

Bipolar disorder, which was previously known as manic depression, is a condition affecting an individual's mood where manic or depressive episodes can fluctuate between 'normal' periods.

Writing in the March issue of The Psychiatrist, Chan and Sireling claim celebrities talking openly about their personal experiences of bipolar disorder has led to increased awareness of the illness.

The psychiatrists wrote: "The increasing popularity of bipolar disorder may be attributed to increased media coverage, coupled with the high social status associated with celebrities such as (British TV personality) Stephen Fry talking about their own personal experiences of mental illness."

Other high-profile celebrities such as actor Mel Gibson and rock star Axl Rose have also spoken publicly about bipolar disorder.

Gibson said in a documentary in 2002 that his childhood alcohol abuse led to high and lows which resulted in him being diagnosed with the disorder.

Around one in every 100 adults is said to suffer from bipolar disorder at some point in their lives although recent studies shows that figure could be as high as 11 in every 100.

Chan and Lester added: "Public awareness of bipolar disorder has spread through the internet, radio and television shows such as MTV's 'True Life: I'm Bipolar' and BBC's 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive'.

Referring to the BBC programme, the psychiatrists said: "It appears to have portrayed mental illness from a fairly benign perspective, noticeably without the strong association of risk and violence that are often reported in the media."

However, Chan and Sireling say patients who 'want to be bipolar' may not always comprehend the consequences of being diagnosed with the disorder.

"Current evidence suggests that bipolar disorder may be underdiagnosed in the community, with a significant delay to diagnosis.

"The challenge for the primary care psychiatrist is in either making or excluding the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and then sensitively dealing with the patient who wants to be bipolar," the psychiatrists conclude.

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