Delays to diagnosis and treatment in patients presenting to mental health services with bipolar disorder

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Introduction: There are often substantial delays before diagnosis and initiation of treatment in people bipolar disorder. Increased delays are a source of considerable morbidity among affected individuals.

Aims: To investigate the factors associated with delays to diagnosis and treatment in people with bipolar disorder.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study using electronic health record data from the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) from 1364 adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The following predictor variables were analysed in a multivariable Cox regression analysis on diagnostic delay and treatment delay from first presentation to SLaM: age, gender, ethnicity, compulsory admission to hospital under the UK Mental Health Act, marital status and other diagnoses prior to bipolar disorder.

Results: The median diagnostic delay was 62 days (interquartile range: 17–243) and median treatment delay was 31 days (4–122). Compulsory hospital admission was associated with a significant reduction in both diagnostic delay (hazard ratio 2.58, 95% CI 2.18–3.06) and treatment delay (4.40, 3.63–5.62). Prior diagnoses of other psychiatric disorders were associated with increased diagnostic delay, particularly alcohol (0.48, 0.33–0.41) and substance misuse disorders (0.44, 0.31–0.61). Prior diagnosis of schizophrenia and psychotic depression were associated with reduced treatment delay.

Conclusions: Some individuals experience a significant delay in diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder, particularly those with alcohol/substance misuse disorders. These findings highlight a need to better identify the symptoms of bipolar disorder and offer appropriate treatment sooner in order to facilitate improved clinical outcomes. This may include the development of specialist early intervention services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S75
Number of pages2
JournalEuropean Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2016


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