August 25, 2021

A new kind of mental health diagnostic is helping people read, learn and understand the complexities of mental illness.

As part of a study of over 5,000 adults, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley discovered that people with depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions were much more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder-2.

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, is one of the first to demonstrate that individuals with bipolar and other mood disorders, as well as their family members and caregivers, are more likely than others to have been diagnosed with mental illness, even when controlling for a variety of factors, such as socioeconomic status and race.

“Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide,” said lead author, Susanne Binder, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UC Berkeley.

“People are often stigmatized, they’re invisible, they are not accepted by society, and they can feel isolated and alone.

We need to help them understand what causes them to experience this disorder.”

The new study, which followed more than 10,000 participants between 2009 and 2015, revealed that bipolar disorder is much more common among African American women than white women, even though they make up a much smaller percentage of the population.

This finding is likely due to the higher prevalence of bipolar disorder among African Americans and to the fact that African American individuals are less likely to seek medical care for their mental illness and often do not seek treatment from mental health providers.

Binder also discovered that African Americans are twice as likely as white women to be labeled bipolar disorder and schizophrenic, and that bipolar disorders are more prevalent in black communities than in white communities.

“We know that African-American men and women with bipolar disorders experience more depression and more anxiety than white men and white women with depressive disorders, and these findings suggest that a greater proportion of these people experience mental illness than their white counterparts,” Binder said.

“This means that they are more vulnerable to stigma and discrimination.”

Despite the prevalence of mental illnesses among African-Americans, the stigma associated with them is often overlooked, and often ignored, said Binder.

People who suffer from bipolar disorder have a higher rate of depression, substance abuse, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are also more likely at one point or another to experience mental health distress.

In addition, African- Americans are more than twice as common as white people as the prevalence rate of mental disorders in their community.

For African- American women, the researchers found that more than 60 percent of them experienced some form of mental distress or impairment at some point during the study period.

African- americans who suffer bipolar disorder are also much more than three times as likely to have depressive disorder and nearly four times as often to have bipolar disorder.

The prevalence of depression and bipolar disorders in African-americans is even higher, at about 30 percent and 32 percent respectively.

Other findings in the study were that black women are at higher risk of bipolar disease than their Caucasian peers, and black women in the U.S. are more at risk than their Asian counterparts for schizophrenia.

Researchers found that black men are much more often diagnosed with depression and anxiety than their Hispanic or Latino counterparts, and also that African African Americans suffer from higher rates of depression than other populations.

Overall, the findings support research that has linked mental health diagnoses to social stigmatization, which has a negative impact on people’s health. 

“The research suggests that stigmatization is a contributing factor in the development of mental ill health,” Binders said.

This is not the first time that a study has shown that African–American people are more frequently diagnosed with depressive and bipolar conditions.

In the 1970s, the Harvard Medical School found that African immigrants to the U of A reported having more depression than their non-immigrant white counterparts.

This study suggests that mental health stigma is a much more significant determinant of mental wellness among African–Americans than any other ethnic group, Binder added.

With so many disparities in mental health, including among African immigrants, researchers are eager to discover what is driving these disparities, and how this can be improved.

 “We need to continue to educate people, we need to raise awareness of mental healthcare and mental health disparities and we need more research on how we can change this, to prevent and treat mental health disorders,” Bind said.