As many of you who read my blog with regularity know, the event that triggered my first depression almost 40 years ago was going away to college. In retrospect, I know it was too big of a change for me. The university was huge. It was 1968, and the buzz words were "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll."
Overnight I felt like a generational outcast. I suspected I was the only virgin on a campus of 40,000 people. I didn't do drugs, and I liked folk music.
While no therapist or psychiatrist ever paid attention to the triggering event, it was very important for me to understand the causal factor. And it was only within the last five years that I read that stressful life events can trigger a depressive episode. Had I been told this years ago, I probably could have stop ruminating on what happened and why, and moved on with my life.
It is only recently that researchers are asking people about the history of their illness. Dependent upon whom you believe, the average age of onset for bipolar disorder is either late teens or between 19 and 21. Yet, I have never read any explanation of why this is so.
When you think about it, most people's lives dramatically change between 18 and 21. They leave home for the first time--either to go to college or to work--and they have a host of new adult responsibilities. For many of us, this is the first real break from childhood.
If I were a bipolar researcher who knew this information, I would suggest that every health teacher in every high school in the universe teach a segment about the stresses that may be caused by the transition from high school to life. I would list depressive and bipolar symptoms, and provide basic information on how to seek help.
According to Dr. S. Nassir Gaemi, director of the Bipolar Disorder Research Program at Emory University, on average there is a 20-year-lapse between diagnosis and treatment. Most patients do not learn they have this illness until they are 40. In his practice, the divorce rate for bipolar disorder is 90 percent.
My feeling is that if more 18-21 year olds knew the causal factors and symptoms for these illnesses, they would seek help earlier (if there was no stigma attached to it). And I believe it's quite possible that if fewer people had to experience prolonged depressive (or manic) episodes without treatment, there would be a better outcome--in terms of their health and happiness.
Questions of the Day: What caused your first depressive or manic episode? How long did it take you to get a diagnosis? (Brevity will be rewarded although I'm not sure how.)