11/11/2015 06:12 GMT | Updated 10/11/2016 05:12 GMT

What Do We Mean By 'Bipolar Disorder'? It's a Life and Death Question

Over a decade.

That's how long someone with bipolar disorder can wait before they get a diagnosis for their condition. And during this time that person will receive an incorrect diagnosis on average four times.

As many as 1 million people in the UK are estimated to be living with bipolar disorder. But despite the numbers affected, as with many mental illnesses we don't really know what causes bipolar disorder and how it develops.

The knock on effect of this is that effective treatments remain stubbornly out of reach. We've made scant progress on drugs or psychotherapy. The most effective pharmaceutical treatment, Lithium, was developed over 50 years ago. But it does not work for everyone and can have unpleasant side effects.

Our lack of progress in understanding and treating bipolar disorder is costing lives.

While the data is not consistent, people with bipolar disorder are clearly at higher risk for suicide - potentially as much as 20 to 30 times higher than the general public.

Can you imagine if this was the situation in other areas of healthcare, like cancer, or heart disease? There would be uproar.

But we can do something about this. And we must. Medical research has treated and prevented so many other conditions, surely we can do the same for bipolar disorder?

In London this week my charity MQ has brought together experts from around the world to agree a way forward.

We've partnered with the major UK health research funders: the Medical Research Council; National Institute of Health Research; and Wellcome Trust, to bring home the message - research funders care about this and are united in tackling it.

For the first time in over two decades, priorities are being discussed by an international group of research leaders - taking place alongside the largest ever survey of UK bipolar service users on research priorities

But this isn't an academic exercise - finding answers to the most important questions is vital if we're going to get diagnosis right, make sure treatments work, and ultimately improve the quality of life for everyone living with bipolar disorder.

What we need is a movement of people demanding better on bipolar disorder. And globally, we need research to lead the way. So that everyone living with the condition, their families, friends and colleagues, know that advances in mental health sciences can help them too.

Read the discussions at the International Conference on Bipolar Disorder on Twitter at #bipolarconf, and take a look at the discussions on MQ's live blog

Find out more about MQ at