LIFESTYLE: Job stress blamed for rise in young bipolar patients

Kwon Bum-joon in Seoul/The Korea Herald

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Bipolar disorder is increasingly affecting Korean youths struggling with job-related stress, with patients among workers in their 20s surging 10 percent annually in recent years, study showed.

The number of people treated for the mood disorder grew 26.1 percent from 46,000 in 2007 to 58,000 in 2011, according to a report released by the National Health Insurance Service.

Over the same period, medical expenses related to psychosomatic illness increased from 55 billion won (US$48.6 million) to 77 billion won. The NHIS paid out 54.7 billion won in 2011 to cover outpatient costs.

The most notable trend is the sharp increase of patients among young workers, which averaged 10.2 percent per year among women and 9.6 percent among men. The figures were about two times higher than the overall increase rate.

People with bipolar disorder usually experience severe swings in mood and in energy levels.

Patients fluctuate between extreme frustration and feelings of sluggishness. Irascible at one moment and becoming severely depressed the next is also a common symptom of the disorder.

Some experience insomnia and have difficulties making decisions due to their impulsive and erratic behavior. Maintaining healthy relationships is not easy because patients have difficulty socializing with others.

Work-related stress, including fierce competition at work, stress from superiors and underemployment, was found to be the main reason for the increasing number of bipolar patients among the younger generation, the report suggested.

"Due to the increasingly competitive work environment nowadays, those in their 20s who are just stepping into the workforce are highly exposed to various forms of psychological stress," said Choi Won-jung, a psychiatrist at the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital.

"This is why we are seeing such an increase in the number of bipolar patients among young people."

The report also found that females exhibited bipolar symptoms 1.4 times more than males.

On average, men are increasingly more prone to the disorder as they age, while women's propensity to exhibit symptoms grows rapidly in their 20s and then remains mostly unchanged thereafter.

Overall, self-employed workers were twice as likely to be bipolar as office workers, the data showed.

Self-employed women were most likely to suffer from the disorder in 2011 with a rate of 220 patients per 10,000, followed by self-employed male cohorts, which showed a rate of 172 per 10,000.

According to numerous scientific studies, any combination of biological factors such as an imbalance of neurons in the brain, hormonal changes and problems in neurological functions can cause manic depression. And it could also be genetic, explained Choi.

"The cause of bipolar disorder is not simple. There's no single definitive reason or explanation for it. Also, there's no panacea that can cure or treat every symptom exhibited by a patient," Choi said.

Not all bipolar patients experience the same symptoms, and the gravity and cause of such symptoms can vary by patient. Health care experts recommend socio-psychological therapy, which aims to improve the patient's social skills and emotional problems at once.

"Mood stabilizing medication, which can help patients control their emotions, remains the most effective treatment so far," added Choi.

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