How Prevalent Is Bipolar Disorder?

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Bipolar disorder is a serious mood disorder that impacts people around the world. Though bipolar is still a highly stigmatized mental health condition the truth is that it is rather common throughout the United States.

This disorder is marked by mood swings that alternate between depression and mania, which is an elevation of energy that presents with irritability, impulsivity, or euphoria. While this is can be a challenging mental illness to manage, there are treatment options available that are highly effective and can contribute to a balanced and well lifestyle.

Read on to learn about bipolar disorder, just how prevalent it truly is, its causes, and treatment. 

Bipolar Disorder Prevalence

Current statistics state that 4.4% of individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is worth noting that this number may be significantly higher—plenty of people may have this condition but never receive a diagnosis. On the other hand, people may also be misdiagnosed with another condition, meaning they have bipolar disorder and don’t know it.

While there is stigma related to mental health concerns as a whole, the stigma of bipolar disorder is present in our society, particularly due to media depictions of those suffering from this condition. However, it is important to remember that this is a prevalent condition.

Bipolar Prevalence in Kids

It is somewhat rare to hear of bipolar being diagnosed in children under the age of 13. This disorder is most commonly diagnosed in early adulthood, though it can also onset during the adolescent years. Researchers have ruled that while it is possible for bipolar disorder to develop in children, it is ultimately challenging to diagnose correctly since symptoms occur in the midst of developmental changes.

This being said, bipolar disorder is fairly prevalent in adolescents between the ages of 13 to 18 years old. Current estimates find 2.9% of adolescents have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, with girls having a higher prevalence than boys.

Comorbidities in Bipolar Disorder

Sometimes mental illnesses can co-exist, something that is often referred to in research as comorbidities. According to a 2018 study surveying gender differences and co-occurring diagnoses in U.S. adults, 50.8% of male participants with bipolar disorder also had a diagnosis of drug abuse, and another 28.5% struggled with alcohol abuse. Women were less likely to have bipolar and substance-use disorders.

When it comes to the diagnoses women may experience alongside bipolar disorder, the same study found that women had twice the likelihood of also having a PTSD diagnosis when compared to men. Additionally, while the odds of those surveyed having an eating disorder in addition to bipolar were quite low, women were 11 times more likely to have an eating disorder and a bipolar diagnosis than men.

While there may be gender differences when it comes to co-occurring diagnoses, research rules that the prevalence of bipolar disorder doesn't differ amongst gender identities.

Bipolar Disorder and Communities of Color

Racial disparities don't discriminate when it comes to bipolar disorder in communities of color. African American and Latinx people experiencing bipolar disorder have a higher rate of misdiagnosis when initially seeking help. For example, a foundational study conducted in 1983 found that Black and Latinx people were initially diagnosed with schizophrenia rather than bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, misdiagnosing can lead to major lapses in care, with individuals being prescribed inappropriate medication or even receiving care that heightens their bipolar symptoms.

Researchers suspect this disparity is due to both racial bias and clinicians inappropriately assessing psychotic symptoms. Furthermore, the impact of systemic racism creates significant barriers to accessing care. In considering how this issue can be addressed, researchers have urged for further research on bipolar disorder in communities of color.

When it comes to the prevalence of bipolar disorder across racial identities, a study found that out of the 7,523,956 U.S. adults surveyed, 1.1% of those diagnosed with bipolar were White. This is significantly more than the 0.2% of Asian, 0.3% of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 0.5% of Hispanic, and 0.7% of Black respondents who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

This data doesn't necessarily mean that people of color simply don't experience bipolar disorder at the same rate as White individuals. Instead, it indicates that barriers to care and discrepancies in diagnosing could be an issue in providing accurate data on the prevalence of bipolar disorder in communities of color.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder has a strong link to genetics and chemical imbalances. Genetically speaking, this disorder often shows up repeatedly throughout a bloodline. That being said, one person having bipolar disorder doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the family will as well. A study conducted on twins validates this fact. One twin developed a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, while the other never developed it.

The chemical balance that causes bipolar disorder is due to dysregulated neurotransmitters. Issues with neurotransmitters can be hereditary, tying the two causes of bipolar disorder together. Neurotransmitters are essential because they facilitate communication between the cells in our body, which in turn impacts cognitive function. When these neurotransmitters malfunction, cognitive function can be impaired, resulting in symptoms of bipolar disorder presenting themselves.

Treatment and Coping

There are effective treatment options for managing bipolar disorder, though there is no cure. With the right treatment, there can be extended periods of time where no bipolar symptoms are present. The recommended treatment regimen is comprised of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

  • Medication is considered an essential treatment protocol for most cases of bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers, like lithium, are a popular medicine prescribed to manage bipolar symptoms. Another option for mood stabilizers is anticonvulsants. Doctors have begun to prescribe anticonvulsants as off-label mood stabilizers. Another common category of medication for bipolar disorder is antipsychotics. Medication can help decrease the frequency and intensity of episodes.
  • Psychotherapy is another key component of coping with bipolar disorder. Engaging in regular psychotherapy with a licensed mental health provider can support individuals experiencing this disorder in developing healthy interpersonal relationships. It can also help folks in minimizing their triggers and developing healthy coping tools for day-to-day stressors.
  • Recommended lifestyle changes can include tracking triggers, minimizing drug and alcohol use, and creating a strict sleep schedule. Additionally, social support and decreasing daily stress can also be very effective in supporting those with bipolar disorder.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing bipolar disorder can feel scary and lonely. Remember, this is a prevalent mental health condition, and you are not alone. If you are experiencing this disorder and haven’t already, seek out the support of a licensed mental health professional. Finding a support group of others who are living with this condition can be extraordinarily helpful, as well.

If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.