Bipolar disorder can be associated with profound impairments in health and quality of life. Although research into the condition has grown exponentially over the past two decades, much of this work has been focused on the biological causes and consequences of the condition, and medication (i.e., pharmacological) treatment approaches. Evidence indicates, however, that even optimal medication management fails to ward off mood episodes in many individuals. The course of bipolar disorder is typically characterized by high rates of relapse and hospitalization, and poor functioning and quality of life between mood episodes. With estimates that 6-10% of people with BD are at high risk of suicide and that, on average, they lose 9 years of life, the condition represents a serious personal and public health concern.
These findings, or ‘bipolar misery statistics’, paint a bleak picture. Yet, there is also evidence that, with optimal support, care and empowerment, many people with bipolar disorder can flourish, leading healthy, fulfilling lives, and making creative and important contributions to society.
Most research reveals the necessity of medications for people with bipolar disorder. However, living well with the condition requires more than pharmacology alone; psychosocial factors and interventions can have a powerful impact on how the condition manifests. Yet, until relatively recently, there was little research into the psychological and social (‘psychosocial’) facets of bipolar disorder.
The CREST.BD network specializes in community-engaged research into psychosocial factors and interventions in bipolar disorder. Our flagship psychosocial intervention study is the ORBIT (online, recovery-focused, bipolar individual therapy) project.
ORBIT is a new online psychological intervention designed to improve quality of life for people with bipolar disorder who have had 10 or more mood episodes (described as ‘late stage’). ORBIT will fill an important gap in the bipolar disorders psychosocial treatment literature because this sub-group of people may not respond as well to traditional psychological inventions as people who have had fewer mood episodes.
Pilot data suggests ORBIT is effective, and we have now received funding from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council for a 4-year (2016-2020) project to refine the intervention and conduct a randomised controlled trial comparing ORBIT with another online intervention, which we also expect to be effective. Throughout 2016 and the first half of 2017, we refined ORBIT and the project website in collaboration with the CREST.BD community.
CREST.BD has been a field leader in drawing attention to quality of life in bipolar disorder. We are excited to now be offering the first ever intervention that directly targets this important element of people’s lived experience.