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Tens of thousands in Wales waiting nearly 12 years to be diagnosed with bipolar

RESEARCH conducted by Bipolar UK has revealed the healthcare system in Wales is failing the 50,000+ people living with bipolar, resulting in an average diagnosis delay of 11.9 years from first contact with health services. The average diagnosis time in the UK is 9.5 years.

Bipolar UK is today (June 6) launching the findings of the Bipolar Commission research at The National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) at Cardiff University which highlights UK-wide failings in the healthcare system, with Wales delivering some of the most shockingly poor levels of bipolar provision.

The ‘Bipolar Minds Matter’ report was compiled by a group of 26 world-leading experts with academic, clinical and lived experience of bipolar and calls for an immediate restructure of the healthcare system in Wales to readdress systemic flaws that are failing patients living with the condition.

The report highlights the need to reduce diagnosis time and deliver a greater continuity of care, which will lead to a better quality of life for those living with bipolar, a reduction in bipolar-related suicides and a reduced financial burden on taxpayers.

Speaking about the findings of the Bipolar Commission in Wales, CEO of Bipolar UK, Simon Kitchen, said: “In Wales the average delay to diagnosis is 2 years and 4 months longer than it is in England.

“Imagine living with a condition for nearly 12 years without the right treatment and support – that’s what people all over Wales are having to cope with.  It’s simply not good enough.

“We also want to address the fact that those living with bipolar in Wales have been found to be significantly older when they’re diagnosed – 36.1 years of age compared to the 33.6-year average age in England.

“This is due to a combination of factors including social stigma surrounding the condition, people not seeing their GP when they’re experiencing hypomania or mania and a lack of specialist training around bipolar across the health sector.

“It is our mission to explain what bipolar is (and isn’t) and ensure that people living with the condition can get a quicker diagnosis to access the support they need. Then they can have long periods of stability and a much better quality of life.”

The charity is also introducing increased provision of its peer support services in Wales for anyone needing support from people affected by bipolar; and many of its resources will be translated into the Welsh language to improve accessibility for those living with bipolar in Wales. 

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Kitchen added: “To reduce diagnosis time it is essential that bipolar screening is ingrained across primary and secondary services and for specialist training to be introduced across the NHS to increase the accuracy of diagnosis which is adding to significant delays.

“Continuity of care is also the bedrock of this model, with strong long-term relationships between individual clinicians and patients a critical factor.

“There are currently not enough specialists in bipolar in Wales which means that symptoms are often being missed.

“People living with bipolar have a suicide risk that’s 20 times higher than people without bipolar.

“Not only will these changes improve the quality of life for people with bipolar in Wales, they will literally save lives.”

Bipolar is a severe mental illness characterised by significant and sometimes extreme changes in mood and energy, which go far beyond most people’s experiences of feeling a bit down or happy.

There are more than a million people with bipolar in the UK — 30% more than those with dementia and twice as many as those with schizophrenia. Millions more are impacted through close friends and family.

Director of NCMH, and a Professor of Perinatal Psychiatry for the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neuroscience at Cardiff University, Professor Ian Jones, said, “We are delighted to be co-hosting this event with Bipolar UK to help them shine a light on this vastly under-researched and under-funded condition.

“Together, we are reaching out to people with lived experience of bipolar and hope to build a ground-breaking, collaborative research community dedicated to increasing understanding of bipolar; its causes, triggers, and how best to manage the condition.

“We are urging people living with bipolar across the UK to sign up to our global registry so they can participate in research into bipolar which will help us in our cause of reducing diagnosis time and ensuring better care for people living with the condition.

“Having access to a clinician who knows them, their symptoms, their triggers, medical history, their family situation and their living arrangements is vital to ensure on-going, effective care and the chance to live well with bipolar.”

Once diagnosed, experts from the bipolar community advocate appointing a new National Clinical Director of Mood Disorders to ensure that everyone with bipolar has access to a 12-week psychoeducation course and a clinician who specialises in bipolar to oversee all prescriptions, medication changes and on-going care.

To read the Bipolar Commission full report and/or an executive summary, visit www.bipolaruk.org/bipolarcommission 

To take part in a National Centre for Mental Health study and sign up for the global community dedicated to research, visit www.ncmh.info/bipolaruk