Educate public about bipolar illness: doctor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
 

A psychiatrist has called for more public education about bipolar disorder, an often misunderstood or overlooked mental condition.

Dr Ricci Chang Lik-chee said many people had symptoms of the disorder, commonly known as manic depression, and did not realise they were ill or that they could be treated.

The condition was characterised by mood swings, from depression to elation, that could last several weeks or months, Chang said. But some sufferers, and many people with milder symptoms, were unaware of their condition and did not seek help.

'It's easy to see overconfident, overtalkative, lustful or bad- tempered people as only being themselves - as expressing forcefully their true personality,' Chang said. 'But in fact many of them suffer from this condition.

'I feel there is a need to raise public awareness about it.'

Chang said mental health professionals could also misinterpret symptoms, with cases being wrongly diagnosed as unipolar depression or major depressive disorder.

A survey by the University of Hong Kong's psychiatry department last year found 36 per cent of people their study identified as having bipolar disorder did not know of their condition. On the basis of their survey, the researchers estimated 5.5 per cent of Hongkongers had the disorder. 'Hongkongers should know more about this chronic severe, disabling disorder,' they wrote in their report.

Chang cited two recent cases as examples of the condition.

A 'pretty and shy 31-year-old woman who led a mundane lifestyle' had suddenly become a 'coquette', having three one-night stands with three different strangers she met in Lan Kwai Fong in a week.

But the woman, after receiving treatment, needed only mild medication to remain stable and had managed to mend her relationship with her long-term boyfriend.

Another patient, a chef, was easily angered by inconsiderate behaviour by strangers in the street.

The chef, who spoke to the Post, said he was often so provoked that he thought of himself as the incarnation of Ip Man, the kung fu hero of celluloid fame. He would reprimand commuters for leaning against poles on MTR trains. 'I would run up to them and say 'Hey, that's wrong',' he said.

On one occasion he broke his leg while chasing a suspected thief at Times Square, having given chase after someone screamed for help.

Once the chef sought help and began receiving medication six months ago, his condition improved, Chang said, but the patient would need lifelong treatment.

Veteran psychiatrist Dominic Lee Tak-shing said yesterday probably less than 1 per cent of people suffered severe forms of bipolar disorder, and that non-specialist doctors would easily miss people whose symptoms were mild.

'Patients can have mild symptoms such as being hyperactive and irritated, however these are also very common among healthy people,' said Lee, adjunct professor at Chinese University's Centre of Research and Promotion of Women's Health. Patients with mild symptoms might not need medicine but should be under doctors' supervision, he said.

The artist Vincent van Gogh and authors Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway had bipolar disorder.

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