Navigate Up
UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

 

Ellen Frank, PhD.
Biography

 

Bipolar Disorder More Prevalent And Costly Than Believed; High Suicide Rate Could Be Curbed With Mainstay Drug Lithium

Studies presented at International Conference on Bipolar Disorder

PITTSBURGH, June 17, 2005 – The incidence of bipolar disorder in the general population is considerably higher than earlier studies have indicated, resulting in significantly less productivity and more days lost from work compared to the better known major depressive disorder, according to preliminary findings from a national survey presented today at the Sixth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder.

Another study has found that lithium, one of psychiatry’s oldest drugs, may be the most effective solution for preventing suicide in patients with manic-depressive disorder and other types of bipolar disorders. Nearly half of all U.S. suicide deaths each year are in patients with bipolar disorders, in whom the risk is more than 20 times that of the general population.

The new prevalence estimate counts 4.3 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a bipolar disorder or “sub-threshold” bipolar disorder, which includes those who don’t fit the precise clinical criteria for bipolar disorder but whose symptoms still severely impair their ability to perform daily tasks of living. Previous studies have placed the prevalence at 1 percent.

The findings are included in a new analysis from the National Co-Morbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), which is the first to examine the prevalence and societal costs of bipolar disorder. As such, the summary of the survey’s preliminary results presented by Ronald C. Kessler, Ph.D., professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and principal investigator of the NCS-R, bring into sharper focus society’s shared burden from bipolar disorder.

Compared to major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder has a significantly greater impact on an individual’s ability to go to work or be productive when at work, according to the NCS-R, which included face-to-face interviews with 9,282 U.S. adults. On an annual basis, the mean number of lost days for someone with bipolar disorder is 49.5, versus 31.9 for someone with major depressive disorder. Nationally, bipolar disorder carries a $25,868 billion-a-year price tag, an economic burden not before appreciated, says Dr. Kessler, who believes previous research has over-estimated the societal costs of major depression while underestimating the costs of bipolar disorder.

One significant cost associated with bipolar disorder is suicide, quantifiable in terms of both the loss of human life and its impact on society. Of particular concern is that attempts made by bipolar patients have about a one-in-five chance of being lethal, compared to a one-in-20 attempt-to-suicide rate within the general population.

According to another Harvard researcher, Ross J. Baldessarini, M.D., the number of suicides and attempted suicides, as well as their associated costs, could be reduced significantly in the United States by a return to more widespread use of lithium, as had been more common before the introduction of newer drugs and continues to be standard practice in Europe. The first modern use of lithium to treat mania was more than 55 years ago.

Dr. Baldessarini, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and his team conducted a comprehensive, quantitative review of studies comparing rates of suicides and attempts among patients who were undergoing different treatments, receiving a placebo as part of a clinical trial or receiving no treatment at all.

Patients taking lithium had an 80 to 85 percent lower rate of attempts or completed suicides compared to patients with manic-depressive illness not being treated with lithium, with strikingly consistent findings across a large number of dissimilar studies.

“The effect that bipolar disorder has on individuals, their families, the work place – society as a whole cannot be underestimated. While it’s troubling that we are learning the burden is much greater than we even realized, we can take steps to reduce some of the hardship. One approach that may make sense, and which appears could help reduce the burden associated with suicide, is a lithium-based treatment,” commented Ellen Frank, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Held every two years, the International Conference on Bipolar Disorder is the only venue in the world devoted exclusively to highlighting new research into bipolar disorder. The Sixth Conference is being held June 16 to 18 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, located in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, and is being sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com