An article in The Guardian observes that ‘It was precisely when patents ran out on the big-selling tricyclic antidepressants in the mid-90s that bipolar suddenly became the recipient of Big Pharma marketing budgets.’
In the early 20th century the prevalence of manic depression was put at less than 1% of the population, but this figure exploded with the ramification of the bipolar categories. If bipolar 1 was often equated with classical manic depression, bipolar 2 lowered the threshold dramatically. Bipolar 2 and a half, 3, 3 and a half, 4, 5 and 6 soon followed. Today there is even “soft bipolar”, which means a patient “responds strongly to losses”. The World Health Organisation deems bipolar the sixth main cause of disability for people aged 15-44. In children, the diagnosis has increased by over 400%.
Historians of psychiatry have all made the same observation: it was precisely when patents ran out on the big-selling tricyclic antidepressants in the mid-90s that bipolar suddenly became the recipient of Big Pharma marketing budgets. Websites helped people to diagnose themselves; articles and supplements appeared all referring to bipolar as if it were a fact; and nearly all of these were funded by the industry.
Of course, the rabbit in the hat here was that the anticonvulsant sodium valproate received a patent for use on mania at exactly this time. Just as depression had been marketed as a disorder by those who purveyed a chemical cure for it, so bipolar was packaged and sold along with its remedy.