Bipolar disorder linked to certain positive psychological traits

Thanks to Marcy Rubin for bringing this article to my attention.

Bipolar disorder linked to certain positive psychological traits

By Andrew Czyzewski
01 June 2010
J Affect Disord 2010; Advance online publication

MedWire News: Patients with bipolar disorder frequently display positive psychological traits including spirituality, empathy, creativity, realism, and resilience at a level equal or higher to that of mentally healthy controls, a review of the literature shows.

Clinicians should aim to preserve and enhance these traits since they may improve illness outcomes, say co-author Nassir Ghaemi (Tufts Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) and colleagues.
They add that a better appreciation of the positive aspects of mental illness is one way to combat the stigma frequently experience by patients with bipolar disorder.

Ghaemi and colleagues performed a literature search for studies assessing the positive psychological characteristics of bipolar disorder. They found a total of 81 articles, with the key positive traits being spirituality, empathy, creativity, realism, and resilience.

One study found that 20–66% of patients with bipolar disorder rely on spiritual belief and practice their faith without negative impact on their affective illness, while another study found that strength of beliefs was a better predictor of good outcomes in bipolar disorder than any other psychiatric comorbidity in the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ).

Two studies found increased empathy in depressed bipolar disorder patients relative to mentally healthy controls, and a third found that compassion predicted decreased mania severity after 6 months of follow-up, suggesting it may serve as a protective factor.

While anecdotal evidence has long suggested enhanced creativity in bipolar disorder, a recent controlled study found patients with bipolar disorder and creative controls, but not major depressive disorder patients, had similarly enhanced creativity on the Baron & Welsch Art Scale (BWAS) compared with healthy controls.

It has been repeatedly shown that depressed bipolar patients are more realistic than the non-depressed in several experiments that measure one’s sense of control. In one study patients with high self-reported depression scores correctly attributed errors to themselves in studies where errors were sometimes experimentally introduced; by contrast, healthy individuals reported more control over experimental tasks than they actually possessed.

Regarding resilience, one study reported that patients with bipolar disorder who were previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and exposed to a new traumatic experience had a lower prevalence of new PTSD symptoms compared with patients without PTSD.

If mood episodes in bipolar disorder can be conceptualized as discrete traumata then each recovery from a mood episode can be seen as an opportunity for post-traumatic growth, the researchers say.

“Paying attention to positive psychological issues may be an innovative strategy to obtain better clinical outcomes in this illness,” Ghaemi et al conclude in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

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