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Bipolar disorder relapses halved by Melbourne researchers

Melbourne mental health researchers have succeeded in halving the number of relapses experienced by people with bipolar disorder which strikes two in 100 Australians, accounts for 12 per cent of suicides each year and costs the country at least $1.5 billion annually(1).

With funding from the MBF Foundation and Beyond Blue, a team led by the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria has developed an innovative structured group program to help people with bipolar disorder to better manage their condition.

The 12-session program, led by trained mental health clinicians, enables people battling the disorder to effectively monitor their mood, assess personal triggers and early warning signs of oncoming illness and take the necessary steps to stay well.

In a controlled randomised study of 84 people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, those on the special intervention program had half the number of relapses after 12 months as the control group which continued with normal treatment. Even with modern drug therapies that act as mood stabilisers, relapse rates for people with bipolar disorder are as high as 40 per cent in the first year and almost 75 per cent over five years.

MBF general manager health product, Michael Carafillis, said the new program provides a much-needed bridge between the mental health services that treat people when they are acutely ill and the GPs and private psychiatrists who provide ongoing care.

Bipolar is a complicated disease involving periods of depression and mania and its sufferers dont always take their medications when they should, said Mr Carafillis.

People with the condition straddle the divide between public and private systems resulting in poor continuity of care for many sufferers. They tend to gain access to the public system in the most severely disabling phase of their illness, typically mania, and are often too ill and the disorder too complex to be easily managed in primary care.

Professor David Castle at the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria said providing people with bipolar disorder with the right tools and strategies to better self-manage their disease in a supportive group environment can substantially reduce the burden on individuals, their families and the health system.

Buoyed by the exciting results, the research team is now training clinicians in metropolitan and regional Victoria. The development of an accompanying service delivery framework, already being implemented in parts of Victoria, South Australia and the ACT, will enable the program to be rolled out in other states. (1) Access Economics report (2003) commissioned by SANE Australia

Contact: Jackie Crossman
Research Australia

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