Many are bipolar but able to keep working

Globe and Mail Update

Wednesday, Nov 10, 200

Two-thirds of Canadians identified as having bipolar 1 disorder are able to hold down a job, a Statistics Canada study has found.

Of 444,000 Canadians ages 25 to 64 who were identified as having experienced at least one episode that suggested they had the disorder, a full 69 per cent continued to work, according to data from a 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey.

"Considering the disruptive impact of the disorder, it is remarkable that 69 per cent of people who had the disorder were employed," Statscan said. The report added: "This was just nine percentage points below the corresponding proportion for people without the disorder."

Bipolar 1 is characterized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as including at least one manic episode. The episodes may include not only an elevated mood but also periods of irritability and volatile behaviour. The sufferer may also, although not necessarily, have experienced a major depressive episode.

"[This] disorder interferes with normal daily activities and social roles. People who are affected may experience frequent relapses and may not return to full function between episodes," the study's authors said.

They found that the major factor in whether a bipolar 1 sufferer was able to work depended heavily on whether they had someone who could "help with the practical necessities of life."

If a person was classified as having lifetime bipolar disorder, they were much more likely to continue to work while having the disease if they had "higher levels of tangible support."

That included having someone in their life on whom they can depend for help with preparing meals, doing chores and getting to appointments.

The authors noted, however, that "more than a quarter of people with bipolar 1 disorder reported that such help was available either infrequently or not at all."

Wednesday's report was based on information from the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey that gathered information on the lifetime prevalence of bipolar 1 disorder in the Canadian population, especially focused on the working-aged population (ages 25 to 64).

The authors also found that of the people suffering from bipolar 1 disorder, 41 per cent had reported their initial manic episode or first major depression had happened before age 17.

Of those suffering from the mental illness, most (more than two-thirds) had sought help from a medical professional, such as a family doctor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Many were also looking for assistance with a drug or alcohol problem.

Wednesday's report also found that those with bipolar disorder were more likely than the general population to have other medical problems such as asthma, migraines or obesity.