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Bipolar Disorder: Two-Sided Trouble

The public's understanding of bipolar disorder is often flawed, especially when it hits celebrities.

Silent Suffering, Public Misunderstanding

Spector and Robbins' woes with manic depression may both have played out on the national stage, but based on reactions of shock to their plight, it seems their recent emotional anguish went relatively unnoticed or were ignored until it was too late.

The same thing can happen to ordinary citizens, testifies Dan Gunter, who has endured bipolar disorder for nearly a decade. The Opelika, Ala., resident says before he was accurately diagnosed with the illness, he cycled from mania to depression to the point that he hurt many people close to him and quit a good-paying healthcare job.

When he first sought help, doctors thought he had depression and prescribed him antidepressants. The drugs, he said, made his manic episodes worse.

Once the bipolar disorder was correctly identified and he was able to take the right medication, however, Gunter says his life improved dramatically. Now he not only works as an announcer for a group of radio stations, he has started his own coaching business -- helping other people with manic depression.

Although he considers the damage to his marriage irreparable, Gunter says his new life under treatment has helped him cope with many emotional difficulties.He considers himself fortunate that many of his family and friends have been understanding about his disease.

Gunter worries about the people who do not receive appropriate treatment, pointing to DBSA figures that say roughly seven in 10 consumers are misdiagnosed by doctors at least once. Also, more than a third (35%) of the misdiagnosed suffer for more than 10 years before they are accurately diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The problem, Gunter says, is that most people will only report some symptoms, and many physicians don't take the time to do a comprehensive evaluation. "So bipolar disorder is very often misdiagnosed as depression, as schizophrenia, and other disorders," he says.

For more information about manic depression, contact the American Psychiatric Association (888-35-PSYCH) or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (800-826-3632).

Published March 3, 2003.

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