Objectives: Data from the Australian National Study of Low Prevalence (Psychotic) Disorders were used to describe the clinical and sociodemographic profile of individuals with bipolar disorder, their levels of impairment and disability, and use of medication and treatment services.
Methods: A 1-month census of contacts with mental health services, private psychiatric and general practices, as well as contact points in marginalized settings, was conducted in a national catchment of 1.1 million adults. The census yielded 3,800 individuals who screened positive for psychosis, of whom a random sample of 980 were administered a comprehensive semi-structured interview schedule. Results are presented on 112 persons with an ICD-10 diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Results: Overall, 69.6% of the 112 persons who met the ICD-10 criteria for bipolar disorder reported a recurrent episodic illness, 25.0% had a chronic course without clear remissions, and 5.4% had a single episode of mania. Assessed on a lifetime basis, suicidal ideation was common (78.6%) and levels of drug and alcohol abuse/dependence were high (32.1%). The majority (84.8%) had had at least one contact with inpatient, outpatient or emergency services in the previous year. Those with serious impairment had levels of service utilization similar to the rest of the sample, but were more likely to report a poorer quality of life and unmet service needs. While the percentage experiencing social and occupational dysfunction was substantial and similar for both sexes, women appeared to be better integrated socially than men. Comparisons with schizophrenia patients within the same survey sample highlighted less chronic impairment but equal or greater utilization of services by bipolar patients.
Conclusions: Despite low levels of chronicity, the burden of social disablement associated with bipolar disorder is high. The data suggest a number of important gaps in the provision of services for this predominantly treated population.