If you, or someone you know experiences bipolar disorder (BD), you know the disarray it can cause. People with bipolar experience mania, the hallmark of the disorder, often feeling euphoric, irritable, and anxious, with delusions of grandeur and increased risk-taking. This, coupled with intense stretches of depression, sadness, lethargy, and suicidality, these uncontrolled changes can be detrimental to people’s careers, relationships, and even their lives. Though BD impacts millions of people regardless of socioeconomics, gender, race, and geography, funding to better understand the disorder and improve interventions is markedly low.

Even with increased attention to mental health during the pandemic, BD is quite unique and requires different approaches and skill sets to treat it effectively. Philanthropy, as a nimble asset class, is ideally positioned to catalyze the scientific field and lay the groundwork for new and improved therapies to empower individuals with BD to regain control of their lives.

Two years ago, the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy  worked with the Depression and Bipolar Alliance on a major survey of people who live with the realities of these conditions every day. This work has helped us frame our work to ensure that the goals of any philanthropic initiative include the priorities of individuals with BD. Since then, CSP has been investigating the BD landscape, studying areas where progress has stalled, and looking for ways philanthropic funding can make the biggest impact.

Our latest report is the culmination of nearly two years of working with and listening to the perspectives of dozens of researchers and clinician experts inside and outside of the BD field, nonprofits, government agencies, individuals with lived experience, and more. The goal? To understand the levers philanthropy can pull to advance progress in areas where research is stalling. These efforts have resulted in identifying five critical avenues philanthropy can fund.

  1. Support research that characterizes the vast range of symptoms and trajectory for disease progression. Individuals with BD can experience symptoms vastly differently from others. Understanding what causes these differences can help experts improve diagnoses and treatments on an individual basis.
  2. Help scientists study the biology that underpins BD development. Understanding how genetics, molecules, and cells can cause or influence BD can provide new targets for interventions.
  3. Creating additional opportunities to translate basic science findings into clinical research. Any results from basic science research should be presented so clinical scientists and industry experts can quickly translate these findings to healthcare interventions.
  4. Scientific workforce training and education. Strengthening  clinician networks and programs will improve the ability to recognize and diagnose BD, which would address the high percentage of misdiagnosis and delays of diagnosis of BD.
  5. Supporting collaboration and thought leadership in the field. The field of autism research was greatly accelerated by substantial investment by the Simons Foundation, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation did the same for Parkinson’s research. The BD field could greatly benefit from a similar organization that would centralize research funding, messaging, and advocacy to improve collaboration across multiple stakeholders and disciplines required to address the complex barriers in BD research and clinical practice.

To get to better treatments for any disease, science must first understand the underlying condition. Because the basic understanding is not quite there, this may be why progress toward treatments for BD isn’t where it should be. This is where philanthropy can make a difference. The financial support and leadership philanthropy could bring to the BD issue space can make a substantial impact on how BD is understood, diagnosed, managed, and treated. Philanthropic investment has advanced many fields of research. This could be philanthropy’s moment to improve the lives of those enduring the relentless burden of bipolar disorder.

Learn more about opportunities to invest in bipolar research with the Center for Strategic Philanthropy's Giving Smarter Guide, Philanthropic Opportunities to Advance Bipolar Research.