Some individuals with bipolar disorder say they experience highly-valued, positive experiences from living with the condition, according to new research by Lancaster University.
According to the study, ten people (ages 24 to 57) with bipolar disorder reported several perceived benefits in having the condition, which included having sharper senses and increased productivity.
For the study, researchers set out to investigate growing evidence that some people with bipolar value certain experiences the disorder brings, and in some cases, would prefer to keep the condition.
Study participants described a wide range of internal states that they believe are experienced at far greater intensity than those without the condition, including increased perceptual sensitivity, creativity, focus and clarity of thought.
Some worked (or had previously worked) at high functioning professional jobs or had been studying to earn a higher degree. Participants described in detail certain times when job duties were difficult or time consuming but performing the tasks would feel incredibly easy.
They felt the ability to achieve at such high levels during these times was extremely rewarding.
Some expressed the view that they felt ‘lucky’ or even ‘blessed’ to have the disorder.
“It’s almost as if it opens up something in the brain that isn’t otherwise there, and I see color much more vividly than I used to… So I think that my access to music and art are something for which I’m grateful to bipolar for enhancing. It’s almost as if it’s a magnifying glass that sits between that and myself,” said one of the study participants.
Some people with the disorder also felt that positives could be reaped from the low points as well, such as having greater empathy for the suffering of others.
“Bipolar Disorder is generally seen as a severe and enduring mental illness with serious negative consequences for the people with this diagnosis and their friends and family,” said study leader Dr. Fiona Lobban.
“For some people this is very much the case. Research shows that long term unemployment rates are high, relationships are marred by high levels of burden on family and friends and quality of life is often poor. High rates of drug and alcohol misuse are reported for people with this diagnosis and suicide rates are twenty times that of the general population.”
“However, despite all these factors researchers and clinicians are aware that that some aspects of bipolar experiences are also highly valued by some people. We wanted to find out what these positive experiences were,” she added.
“People were very keen to take part in this study and express views which some felt had to be hidden from the medical profession. It is really important that we learn more about the positives of bipolar as focusing only on negative aspects paints a very biased picture that perpetuates the view of bipolar as a wholly negative experience.
“If we fail to explore the positives of bipolar we also fail to understand the ambivalence of some people towards treatment,” continued Lobban.
Source: Lancaster University