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Bipolar Disorder a Misunderstood Disease

Few Americans think it's a mental illness, know its symptoms

THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- A new survey found 78 percent of Americans polled failed to name bipolar disorder as a mental illness and 38 percent couldn't name a single symptom associated with the disease.

The survey was released Oct. 9 by The Nation's Voice on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Abbott Laboratories to mark the first national Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day.

The day includes free mental health screenings and referrals for treatment of bipolar disorder, along with efforts to provide people with information about bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 2.3 million people in the United States. The biochemically based mood disorder features mood swings from mania to depression to normal mood.

"The impact of untreated bipolar disorder on a person's life is huge," Richard C. Birkel, NAMI executive director, says in a prepared statement.

"Early detection and treatment can prevent years of illness-driven choices that produce devastating individual losses. Bipolar Awareness Day offers screening, education, information, hope for the millions of Americans living with bipolar disorder," Birkel says.

Among the survey findings:

  • Women aged 35 to 54 have the greatest awareness (39 percent) of bipolar disorder, followed by college-aged students at 35 percent. Awareness of bipolar disorder in the average population is 22 percent.
  • People age 55 and older have an awareness rate of 12 percent.
  • Awareness about bipolar disorder among whites is 24 percent, among Hispanics it's 23 percent, and among blacks it's 10 percent.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about bipolar disorder. And here's a list of the free screening sites across the country.

SOURCE: NAMI, news release, Oct. 9, 2003
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