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Bipolar sufferers 'self-diagnosed'

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Famous bipolar disorder sufferers like Stephen Fry who talk openly about their condition have prompted more people to diagnose themselves as having the illness, say researchers.

Two London-based psychiatrists have claimed the rise in self diagnosis is due to greater public awareness and a willingness of celebrities to talk about their personal experiences.

Dr Diana Chan and Dr Lester Sireling noted many GP referrals to their service which involved a request for a psychiatric verdict on the possibility of bipolar - after the patient’s own suggestion.

They wrote in The Psychiatrist: “Also common, but less so in our experience, is the patient who attends reluctantly at the instigation of family members who are convinced they have finally made the diagnosis that can explain the awkward or embarrassing behaviour of their relative.”

Around one in every 100 adults have been found to have bipolar disorder at a given time, but more recent studies suggest the true rate may be as high as 11 in every 100.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • The confidence to accept and self-diagnose my own bi-polar has been a relief to me, and to my family. The context it has given to my behaviours and the boost to my self-esteem that has come throguh self-acceptance is tremendous.

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  • the problem with this self diagnosis is that it is not always accurate. people with borderline personalities, cyclothymia and without any actual psychiatric diagnosis can all display mood swings attributed to bipolar. however, people are often unaware that there is far more to bipolar disorder than mood swings... believe me!!

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  • As a CPN, there has been a recent upsurge (in my experience) of people wrongly believing they have a bipolar illness. This can be blamed on the televisation of Stacey from Eastenders being diagnosed with the illness. I hear it on most days, "I'm just like Stacey". It has been good in raising public awareness of the illness, but more often than not, the symptoms they have are not that of a bipolar illness!

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  • Steve Williams

    Self-diagnosis by members of the lay public is always a dangerous, self-indulgent "fashion."

    Everyone has "mood-swings" - just as everyone has temperature, blood-pressure or pulse rate variations around their natural "normal" values...

    How seriously would we take a "self-diagnosis" of hypertension based upon a single reading that was above the 'percieved' normal of 120/80 mmHg?

    We all have "depressed spells" and times in or lives when it all seems to be going "right" - it doesn't mean that we have some ongoing endogenous psychiatric condition presenting.

    What is significant, however, is that this trend may be symptomatic of a greater 'societal' illness - using the ambiguous 'science' of psychiatry as a justification for simple bad behaviour... much like the supposed "male menopause!"

    ...and yes... I am an RMN SRN - kicking it old-school from the days when "common-sense" was a valued commodity in a registered nurse rather than a degree! :)

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  • I must say that I agree with Steve's comments above. As a CMHN I see many people with mood disorders, almost daily sometimes, and see few people with Bi-Polar Disorder (BPD). All too often I hear people say, "I think Ive got Bi-Polar" or, "I saw something on TV about it, and Ive got it". However, during assessment (which I always do with a colleague) we often find no formal evidence to suggest an actual mood dissorder.

    Moor often than not we meet people that have had a bad or recent hard time in their lives resulting in their mood being upset and inbalanced. It appears that in some cases as people are down and subdued they are impressionable to advice and suggestions. Such advice, ie, suggestions of a BPD can then lead to people wanting immediate answers for something that they perhaps don't understand.

    In relation to another comment made earlier; I have found that BPD is sometimes, but not often, viewed upon as being fashionable. Myself, and colleagues have at times felt that some people appear to use an undiagnosed BPD as a tool or excuse to cover up or validate eratic behaviour.

    I dont intend to disregard or cast a negative outlook on the possibility of self diagnosis tools, I am mearly pointing out some of the possible issues that may arise in some circumstances. Insight is valuable towards helping people with mental illness. It gives leverage and angles to help people get better. However, wrongly self diagnosed and mis led insight may prove problematic.

    How can health professionals treat and monitor something that may not biologically be there, that is led by word of mouth? I think there is a risk of self created or service led patient production that could in turn manifest itself into an uneccesary learned behaviour and wrong diagnosis for life.

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