180,000 Hongkongers may have bipolar disorder and not know it

As many as 180,000 people in Hong Kong could be suffering from bipolar disorders that may have been misdiagnosed as normal depression, says an academic.

The medical community has only recently paid greater attention to bipolar disorders after a more systematic classification for psychiatric conditions was agreed on by experts.

The disorder, which lies in between normal and extreme forms of depression, has more serious symptoms than normal depression.

Sufferers run a greater risk of committing suicide and suffer mood swings more frequently.

Sometimes they experience prolonged insomnia and are over-energetic, confident and talkative, while other times they feel exhausted and lack the drive to meet people or go outdoors.

'The mood fluctuation is like spending half the day in paradise and then falling down back into hell for nine and a half days,' said Lee Sing, head of the mood disorders centre at Chinese University.

Professor Lee said it was difficult to diagnose bipolar depression as doctors needed to conduct a detailed assessment of the patient's medical history and day-to-day symptoms, as well as their family background.

An American study showed that 69 per cent of bipolar depression sufferers were misdiagnosed, seeking help from several doctors before finding out what was wrong.

A third received the right treatment only after 10 years.

To gauge the prevalence of bipolar depression in Hong Kong, the centre surveyed 3,000 people based on the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. It estimated that 3.9 per cent of the population, or 180,000 people, were suffering from it.

It also meant about 40 per cent of the estimated 410,000 people suffering from depression developed the more serious mood disorder.

Professor Lee said they had started to review difficult depression cases that could have been misdiagnosed in the past.

Some of these patients have been given mood stabilisers - such as anti-convulsant medication - which have proven effective treatments in the past.

'Unlike normal depression, it is very difficult to treat it without taking drugs,' Professor Lee said.

While outside environmental pressures can aggravate the development of bipolar depression, Professor Lee said the disorder could be inherited from parents. People prone to the disease usually had family members suffering from mood disorders as well.

The mood disorder centre is launching a one-week campaign today to give the public a better understanding of bipolar depression.

Anyone interested can call 2606 3939 for an initial telephone assessment, which can be followed up with further consultations.

Do you have symptoms of bipolar depression?1Losing your temper easily and arguing with others2Sleeping less but not feeling tired3Distracted easily and finding it difficult to concentrate 4An increased interest in sex 5Engaging in more adventurous activities than usual

Do you have symptoms of bipolar depression?

1 Losing your temper easily and arguing with others

2 Sleeping less but not feeling tired

3 Distracted easily and finding it difficult to concentrate

4 An increased interest in sex

5 Engaging in more adventurous activities than usual