Bipolar Disorder: Is It Ignored?

Few Americans know of the disorder, nor do they recognize the symptoms.

By Colin Allen, published October 9, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Bipolar disorder seems to slip under the radar of public awareness. Respondents to a telephone survey about mood disorders rarely thought of it: Almost four out of five Americans did not name it as a disorder.

The survey, sponsored by the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, found that women age 35 to 54 and college-age students were the most aware of the disease. Adults over 55 knew least about it. Almost four out of ten people could not think of any symptoms related to bipolar disorder or manic depression, as it is also known.

The survey respondents who could name some of the symptoms of the disorder had only a cursory sense of them. Some 38 percent mentioned mood swings and 15 percent knew that sufferers often experience bouts of depression.

Bipolar disorder, which usually appears in late adolescence, is marked by extreme shifts in mood, energy and ability to function. Bouts of euphoria or depression can last days or months. Common symptoms include irritability, lethargy and anxiety as well as changes in sleep patterns and appetite.

The disorder affects 2.3 million people, or 1.2 percent of the nation. Without treatment, half of those with the disorder develop problems with drug or alcohol abuse. And about 20 percent commit suicide.