Rashmi Patel, PhD, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, and colleagues examined anonymous mental health records from a database of more than 1,300 adults who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They looked at the amount of time it took between when they presented for mental health services and when they were actually diagnosed and received treatment.
It took an average of two months between the first presentation and when they were actually diagnosed, the researchers reported in the journal PLOS ONE. But the amount of time was far longer for those who presented and had alcohol and substance use disorders. For this group, the average delay was two years, though some had a delay of more than five years.
The authors say that the delays in bipolar diagnosis among those with alcohol and substance abuse problems could be due to some clinicians’ mistaken belief that the symptoms are a result of the drug issues, rather than the bipolar disorder. Instead, those clinicians should consider a bipolar disorder or dual diagnosis of both disorders.
They add that failure to recognize and treat both disorders simultaneously could worsen both conditions. In addition, other research has indicated those with mania, hypomania, or depression have an increased risk of alcohol and substance abuse.
“We need to develop better strategies to identify bipolar disorder, perhaps through specialized early intervention services, in order to offer appropriate treatment sooner,” Patel said in a statement. “There is a clear need for further research to better understand how to treat people with a dual diagnosis of both disorders.”
Delays in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, particularly in those with alcohol and substance misuse disorders, could be preventing people from receiving effective treatment for the condition, according to a new study by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, and the NIHR.
Published in PLOS ONE, the study found that two months was the average delay from presenting to mental healthcare services to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, in people with alcohol and substance misuse disorders the average delay was two years, with some experiencing delays of over five years. This was in addition to a period of around 10 years from first experiencing symptoms to receiving specialist mental health care.