An innovative structured group programme has helped Australian researchers at the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria halve the number of relapses experienced by people with bipolar disorder.
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.
To check whether or not the programme worked, the researchers studied 84 people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
They found that 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.
Michael Carafillis, general manager health product of MBF Foundation which funded the study, 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 don't always take their medications when they should," he said.
"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," he added.
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.