Call for better treatment of bipolar disorder

26 May 2015 - 17:06 By Farren Collins

More than a million South Africans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – and another million have it but don’t realise it. The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) will use today‚ National Bipolar Awareness Day‚ to launch a month-long series of nationwide talks to educate people on the disease – which is the sixth biggest cause of disability in the world.Bipolar disorder‚ or manic depression‚ is a mental illness that affects a persons moods‚ energy and ability to function. It is characterised by mood swings that shift between periods of extreme “highs” and “lows”.Statistics released by Sadag show that people with bipolar disorder are twice as likely to die from heart disease and stroke‚ while the risk in children developing the illness increases by 15-30% if one parent is affected.“There is a strong genetic factor‚ so if there is bipolar disorder in your family‚ it means you have a higher chance of [developing] bipolar disorder too‚” said Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers.Environmental factors such as stress‚ substance abuse and trauma were other triggers for the disease.She said there was also an economic impact‚ with employees diagnosed with bipolar taking on average up to 19 sick days a year.“Untreated or undiagnosed bipolar can lead to serious negative impacts within the workplace from taking time off‚ to being boarded‚ to losing your job [and] being unproductive‚”said Chambers.Psychiatrist Antoinette Miric said the disease was generally under-diagnosed in the first 10 years because people didn't seek help‚ and the symptoms were often masked by addiction – but there was not an increase of the disease within the population.“The rate of the disease has not increased‚ but we are identifying more bipolar patients because of [increased] awareness around the disease‚” said Miric.Treatment for bipolar disorder was done through pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods‚ and Miric said both were needed to effectively treat it.“We prescribe mood stabilisers and anti-psychotics when necessary‚ but also treat patients through social support‚ therapy and family support‚”she said.Chambers said education and better awareness would lead to better treatment of the disease.The department of health did not respond to queries on government’s plan to improve capacity to fight the disease.-RDM News Wire

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