Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The upside of bipolar disorder

I had a delightful young lady in my office today. She caught my eye in the waiting room even before I called her name due to her engaging smile, the kind of person you'd like to hire to work your front desk and win over your public.

She, however, was not particularly happy today, having been recently diagnosed with bipolar depression. Despite her successful career in public relations, she worried that her future would be bleak due to her condition.

I assured her the upside of bipolar was the creative energy and outgoing personality she brought to her life, her work, and her relationships, all qualities easily visible during our brief encounter. I just e-mailed her the following quote from Dr. Peter Whybrow of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. He is responding to the question as to why genes for bipolar disorder would persist in the human genome:

I think there is much in the energy and excitement of what one considers hypomania* that codes for excellence, or at least engagement, in day-to-day activities. One of the things that I've learned over the years is that if you find an individual who has severe manic depressive disease, and you look at the family, the family is very often of a higher socioeconomic level than one might anticipate. And again, if you look at a family that is socially successful, you very often find within it persons who have bipolar disease...

So I think there is an extraordinary value to those particular genetic pools. So you might say that if you took the bipolar genes out of the human behavioral spectrum, then you would find that probably we would still be -- this is somewhat hyperbolic -- wandering around munching roots and so on.


*Hypomania is the high energy state short of outright mania that can be seen in persons with bipolar tendencies in the course of their normal functioning

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