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Encephale. 2012 Jun;38(3):194-200. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 Oct 11.

[Crosscultural aspects of bipolar disorder: results of a comparative study between French and Tunisian patients].

[Article in French]

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CHS Le Vinatier, 95, boulevard Pinel, 69677 Bron cedex, France.



Bipolar disorders are one of the most potentially severe psychiatric disorders, implying a high degree of morbidity and incapacity for patients. Indeed, the World Health Organization in 1996 ranked them as the sixth most disabling condition worldwide. Major advances have been achieved in their understanding and management. However, too many patients do not yet benefit from them. As a matter of fact, bipolar disorders are still underestimated and under-recognized, being too often misdiagnosed with major depression or schizophrenia; the DSM-IV acknowledges the trend of clinicians to overdiagnose schizophrenia (rather than bipolar disorder), especially in ethnic groups and young people. Indeed, cultural factors may impact the symptomatology and the course of the disease. In particular, it has been shown by many authors that schizophrenia-like features are more likely to be found in southern countries. Similarly, the same authors have reported more manic than depressive episodes during the course of bipolar disorder.


We aimed at comparing individuals with bipolar disorder living in two distinct geographic and cultural environments, namely France and Tunisia.


Our study included two samples of 40 patients each, natives from the country, who were admitted during 2007 to the hospitals of Razi (Tunis, Tunisia) and Le Vinatier (Lyon, France) and suffering from a bipolar disorder according to the DSM-IV criteria. The French sample was constituted by all the patients meeting the inclusion criteria and the Tunisian one was selected by matching the patients by gender and duration of the disorder.


Our results were consistent with the existing literature, showing many similarities and some marked differences such as a greater rate of manic episodes in the onset and during the course of the illness as well. The main result was the type of the first episode: mania in three quarter cases in Tunisia and depressive in the same proportion in France. The same figures applied to the recurrences. Unipolar mania, in particular, was three times more common in Tunisia than in France.


Beyond the methodological biases (in-patients recruitment, diagnosis habits, cultural tolerance), these differences are also probably linked to climatic factors, such as temperature and photoperiod.


The early detection of bipolar disorder is of crucial importance to provide specific treatments to patients. In a world where psychiatrists are more and more exposed to meet patients from various backgrounds, it is necessary to be aware of culture-bound features. Besides, the primacy of mania, in southern countries, may be a key to deepen our understanding of bipolar disorder and consequently its management.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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