Can There Be Differences In The Personality Traits Of Bipolar Sufferers?

Many people may incorrectly assume that all Bipolar sufferers have the same kind of symptoms or that there is some kind of “one size fits all” perspective to the illness. This is in part due to the many misconceptions that surround the condition and cloud people’s judgement of what it is like to have this disorder and live with it on a daily basis. As with many other forms of depression, generalised anxiety or other mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, this idea of a broad brush-stroke set of symptoms simply isn’t the case and each sufferer will have their own unique take and perspective on the illness as it happens to them, whether they have Bipolar I or Bipolar II. In the last few years, Psychiatrists and Doctors have also started to wonder whether, within the two main types of Bipolar Disorder there are different personality traits that can be singled out and defined as being either worse or better in sufferers. 

New study into the personality traits of Bipolar sufferers

In December 2012 the results of a new study were published, aiming to look into this very question and to delve further into the personalities of various Bipolar I and Bipolar II sufferers to see whether there are changes and distinctions between the two and how the conditions develop in patients of both sexes. This will help developmental health resources for bipolar sufferers. The work, which was conducted on a relatively small scale by the University of Ulsan College of Medicine in Seoul has shown up some quite interesting and thought provoking results. Conducted by Doctors Yeon Ho-Joo, Byungsu Kim, Jong-Ham Lim and Seong Yoon-Kim who work for the Department of Psychiatry at Asan Medical Centre, the study examined a core group of one hundred and twenty eight patients. These patients were all taken from the Psychiatric Department of the University Hospital and split into two groups; those who were suffering from Bipolar I disorder and those who suffered from Bipolar II.

In the Bipolar I group there were eighty five patients, forty seven of whom were females and thirty eight male. In the Bipolar II group there were forty three patients, twenty three of whom were female and twenty male. All the patients were assessed as being in a state of remission after a recent manic episode, were considered to be cogent enough to take part and in a state of euthymia, that is to say able to recognise they were OK and not in any way likely to become distressed or upset by the survey.

How the patients were assessed

Researchers used something called the NEO Personality Inventory to assess the patients. This takes into account five different personality dimensions (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness) that can be said to be present in sufferers of various mental health or psychiatric conditions from eating disorders right through to obsessive-compulsive disorder. The elements are defined as follows:

Neuroticism: Being predisposed to psychological stress which manifests as anxiety, anger, depression or other nervous behaviors.

Extraversion: Being sociable, friendly, lively or cheerful

Openness: Being sensitive, openly curious in an intellectual capacity, needing variety in their lives and being open to other people’s views and attitudes.

Agreeableness: Involves patients being open to a degree of trust with others, being able to display empathy and sympathy toward others

Conscientiousness: Being able to stick to goals and adhere to principles.

When the different patients were surveyed it was found that those who were in the Bipolar I group scored low points in terms of neuroticism, whilst Bipolar II patients scored much higher. The same Bipolar II patients suffered increased levels of anxiety, feelings of vulnerability and depression because of this.

Conversely, Bipolar I sufferers scored more highly on the extraversion dimension of the test and the more positive elements that went with this particular trait, whilst the Bipolar II patients had a significantly lower score.

Interestingly, there were no differences in the scores on conscientiousness between either of the groups and likewise the same on the elements of openness and agreeableness.

The results

Dr Joo stated that although it was clear this was only a small group and that further studies were needed to support the claims, it was clear that there were distinct differences in the personality traits of the two different subcategories of Bipolar sufferers. He said that the results “clearly show that BD I and BD II patients have distinct personality which supports the separation in enduring trait dimensions between the two subtypes” and that the most enduring of these were between the personality traits of Neuroticism and Extraversion.

However, the Doctors did admit that the relatively small number of participants in the study may have impeded their ability to try and detect more subtle nuances of personality change in the people that took part. Also, as the patients were only taken from one hospital and not a number of different ones from other regions, that the results may not be wholly representative of Bipolar patients in general, from not only the rest of the country but the world too. They all felt that further longitudinal studies would be needed in order to assess a wider group of patients and their experiences with Bipolar as a whole.

Whilst the results of this study are not without merit and no sweeping generalisations are made about the condition, it raises some interesting questions about whether or not more distinctions can be made between the two different types of Bipolar or not and whether this could lead to a greater understanding of how patients suffering from either Bipolar I or II are to be treated in future years.

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