Racial disparities in bipolar disorder treatment and research: a call to action

Margaret O. Akinhanmi, Joanna M. Biernacka, Stephen M. Strakowski, Susan L. McElroy, Joyce E. Balls Berry, Kathleen R. Merikangas, Shervin Assari, Melvin G. McInnis, Thomas G. Schulze, Marion LeBoyer, Carol Tamminga, Christi Patten, Mark A. Frye

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Objectives: Health disparities between individuals of African and European ancestry are well documented. The disparities in bipolar disorder may be driven by racial bias superimposed on established factors contributing to misdiagnosis, including: evolving empirically based diagnostic criteria (International Classification of Diseases [ICD], Research Diagnostic Criteria [RDC] and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM]), multiple symptom domains (i.e. mania, depression and psychosis), and multimodal medical and additional psychiatric comorbidity. Methods: For this paper, we reviewed the phenomenological differences between bipolar individuals of African and European ancestry in the context of diagnostic criteria and clinical factors that may contribute to a potential racial bias. Results: Published data show that bipolar persons of African ancestry, compared with bipolar persons of non-African ancestry, are more often misdiagnosed with a disease other than bipolar disorder (i.e. schizophrenia). Additionally, studies show that there are disparities in recruiting patients of African ancestry to participate in important genomic studies. This gap in biological research in this underrepresented minority may represent a missed opportunity to address potential racial differences in the risk and course of bipolar illness. Conclusion: A concerted effort by the research community to increase inclusion of diverse persons in studies of bipolar disorder through community engagement may facilitate fully addressing these diagnostic and treatment disparities in bipolar individuals of African ancestry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-514
Number of pages9
JournalBipolar disorders
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • African ancestry
  • bipolar disorder
  • health/racial disparities
  • minority research participation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


Dive into the research topics of 'Racial disparities in bipolar disorder treatment and research: a call to action'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this