They have lives that are really very much like snakes and ladders. They may go into a firm – creativity is over represented in bi-polar people – and they get promoted. And they go higher and higher. Then one day they go into a depression and eventually they get sacked. They can’t get out of bed. They lose their job. In addition to the direct impact and disability of these mood disorders, is huge collateral damage.

Alcoholism and drugs are over represented. Failed marriages. All sorts of things. However, bi-polar is still more a stigmatising diagnosis than depression. It is over-represented in creative people. It is over-represented in people who are successful. But what they’ll say to me is, “I’m prepared to say I’m depressed but I’m not prepared to say I’m bi-polar because I think I’ll lose responsibility for finances”. And we think it’s increasing.

And the big tragedy for bi-polar is that it’s a condition that comes on in adolescence, and usually in years eight to ten at school. And the average duration in Australia, if it gets diagnosed at all, is 15 to 20 years. And during that time people lose their careers. Alcohol becomes a big problem and so on.

Damian Hill: Why is it increasing?

Gordon Parker: . If I could just back up a little bit. Is depression increasing? Probably not. It’s much more that depression is being diagnosed. Fifty years ago when the first antidepressant was discovered, pharmaceutical companies thought there was not enough money in making any antidepressants and now they dominate the market. And that’s partly a reflection of depression being moved away from what we used to call melancholia – describing the biological depression – to bring in a whole range of other conditions where people get depressed because of stress or because of personality or both…

Depression has been destigmatised and redefined and that has caused this suggestion of an increase. But it probably hasn’t increased. In terms of bi-polar, there’s a very interesting correlation with diet. And basically as we change our diet and Omega 3 has gone down and Omega 6 has gone up we’ve seen an increase in certain disorders. Cardiac disorders and bi-polar 2 in particular. And so there’s a very rich story there…

That’s one explanation and probably the most powerful. Other ones are: there are more illicit drugs being used that might predispose people; pace of life including high energy drinks and so on… I actually think 5-6 per cent as a lifetime risk of bi-polar disorder is very true. And this group is even more likely to kill themselves than those with unipolar depression.

Leave a comment