November 14, 2010; Source: Sunday Telegraph | A public awareness campaign in Australia is driving some people crazy. Health experts say that the claims made by the Bipolar Education Foundation that five million Australians, or one out of every four people, suffer mental illness each year greatly exaggerate the facts. They’re also very unhappy with a companion television commercial that features a game show contestant popping balloons to represent how many Australians kill themselves—a number the ad claims is far higher than people realize.

While applauding the foundation for making more people aware of bipolar disorder and other mental health problems, Philip Mitchell, head of psychiatry at the University of NSW, says the campaign goes too far. He says that the claim that one in four Australians suffers mental illness could be defended if it were a lifetime measurement, but as a reflection of current rates “it certainly is an exaggeration.”

Enrique “Topo” Rodriquez, a former international rugby star, who established the Bipolar Education Foundation, won’t budge from his claims. He told the Sunday Telegraph, “I know this very well—I have to; I live and die with this information every day. I’m prepared to stand with what we said . . . that it’s one in four, or 25 per cent.”

SANE Australia executive director Barbara Hocking said her organization has been receiving calls as a result of the campaign from people who suffer bipolar disease, feeling the suicide ads, in particular, mock them and their disorder. “It does run the risk of confusing people and upsetting people who have bipolar disorder,” she said. “I think it is poor execution. The last thing you need is (a gimmick).”—Bruce Trachtenberg