The Cost of Bipolar Disorder

About 5.7 million American adults have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). It’s also the most expensive.

NAMI reports that bipolar is the most expensive mental health care diagnosis, citing one study that says the lifetime cost per case ranged from $11,270 for a person who only has one episode, to $624,785 for a person with a chronic episodic condition. NAMI also reports that one study found that 56 percent of bipolar people abuse or are dependent on illicit drugs. Forty-four percent also abused alcohol.

Bipolar disorder has a direct correlation to losses by wage earners. There are $38 billion in indirect costs related to bipolar disorder, according to NAMI, with about $17 billion assigned to losses by wage earners with varying degrees of bipolar disorder. Patients and families of patients experience losses not only in wages, but also in quality of life. When employment is lost it can be difficult to regain.

The NAMI report reads, “The combination of missed work hours and lower productivity caused by stress adds a financial burden on the caregiver, as well as on society as a whole.”

The level at which one’s bipolar disorder affects daily work life can depend on the level of education one has acquired and the course of bipolar disorder.

Samson Tse, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong, looked at the work history of 6,301 patients in 22 articles published between 2000 and 2011. The medical literature looked at employment clinical variables with patients with bipolar disorder, including psychosocial, cognitive and sociodemographic. Individuals with good verbal memory and executive function skills had better outcomes than those with lesser skills.

The research suggests that individuals with bipolar disorder will have more positive outcomes in their careers if they embark on neurocognitive and psychoeducational techniques and training, as well as education.

Patients with longer hospital stays related to their bipolar disorder were found to have less success in their employment outcomes. One way to shorten these disruptive hospital stays is for people with bipolar disorder to seek out community-based and recovery-oriented treatment.

Complicating the problems associated with bipolar disorder is the fact that many patients are initially misdiagnosed. According to a 2005 publication by Dr. Robert M.A. Hirschfeld and Lana A. Vornik, MSc, as many as 70 percent of bipolar individuals are misdiagnosed, many of whom are diagnosed as having unipolar depression, possibly because they present to their doctor while in a state of depression.

While the problems associated with bipolar disorder are many, the economic impact it has on patients is far-reaching and can affect many aspects of their personal lives.

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