Whenever I discuss mental illness, my patients and colleagues invariably focus on the negative and harmful effects and the associated stigma. This is especially true with regard to bipolar illness which is potentially disabling and life threatening. What is often overlooked by professionals and public alike is that mental illness can have some positive aspects, e.g., positive emotional responses and increased achievement of ambitious goals. Other characteristics that are generally viewed as positive include spirituality, creativity, realism, resilience, and empathy. Mitchell and Romans describe bipolar patients as more reliant on spiritual beliefs which are reported to have an influential effect on the course of illness. Moran and Diamond have described increased empathy in depressed patients. In spite of bipolar disorder being associated with negative financial, social, and interpersonal outcomes, a large number of patients describe positive experiences of sensitivity, alertness, productivity, social relations, sexuality, and creativity. Akiskal et. al. who have published many articles in this area note that samples of creative individuals have an over representation of affective disorder. Cases of full blown manic depressive illness are less common. Cyclothymic and hyperthymic temperaments abound.
These positive psychological aspects of bipolar disorder are of importance to the public and professional community because of the relationship to social stigma and quality of life in patients suffering from major psychiatric disorders. People with bipolar illness have to cope with their illness as well as the negative attitudes about them. Paying attention to the positive psychological characteristics may help to secure better clinical results.