Bipolar Symptoms and Social Function

Bipolar disorder symptoms of depression and mania may affect social skills differently

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Symptoms of bipolar disorder can get in the way of social activities like work and play. Even when symptoms are well-managed, they may still interfere with social aspects of life.

A recent study found that depression and mania symptoms, even those outside a specific mood episode, were related to social function. The more depression symptoms a person had, the more trouble they had with work and social function. Mania symptoms were linked to higher levels of relationship troubles.

Managing symptoms may help with certain aspects of social function.

"Discuss any bipolar symptoms with a psychiatrist."

Researchers, led by Richard Morriss, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Community Mental Health at Nottingham University, wanted to see how depression and mania symptoms affected specific social functions.

The researchers interviewed 253 patients with bipolar disorder once every eight weeks for a year and half. They asked the patients about their mania and depression symptoms.

In bipolar disorder, people can have cycles of depression and mania. Some symptoms of depression are feeling sad, changes in sleep patterns and changes in appetite. Mania symptoms include feeling high, hyper and excited with less need for sleep.

People with bipolar disorder may have a period of only depression or mania, but they can also have symptoms of both at the same time - called a mixed episode.

During the interview, researchers also measured function in social situations, including work, family life and marriage.

Participants were asked about their performances in these situations and how they fit into their roles. They also rated levels of friction in their relationships and how dependent they were on others. Put together, all the aspects of social function gave an overall social function score for each person.

All the social functions and the total score were then looked at in the context of depression and mania symptoms.

The researchers found that depression symptoms consistently related to performance, overall social function and work role.  Over the course of the study, the more depression symptoms people had, the more trouble they reported with their social function.

Also, the more depression symptoms people had, the more trouble they reported with their relationships. The link between depression and relationships varied over time.

Mania symptoms were linked to friction in relationships. Over the course of the study, relationship friction increased as mania symptoms increased.

Besides symptoms, the researchers also found some other factors that affected social function. Substance abuse, personality disorder and being in a specific mood episode were big predictors of having trouble fulfilling social roles for people with bipolar disorder. Problems with social roles were slightly improved for people who were married and who had a job. 

The authors concluded, “Depression and mania-type symptoms have specific effects on social adjustment in bipolar I disorder.”

The authors suggested that continued treatment may be desirable even if a patient is considered to be in remission or recovery. Any lingering symptoms may still have an effect on social function and work. 

This study was published January 10 in Bipolar Disorders. Funding for the study was supplied by a grant from the Medical Research Council, UK, and supplemented by the National Health Service. The authors report no financial conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 15, 2013
Last Updated:
January 19, 2013