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It is not necessarily easy for either the individual or their families to deal with bipolar experiences. It is therefore not surprising that there are sometimes problems in families. In many cases the protectiveness or criticisms of family members represent their efforts to cope with day-to-day life. It is also important to note that these patterns can be changed through family therapy which also helps improve outcomes for the individual with a bipolar diagnosis including reducing risk of requiring hospital admissions and improving day to day functioning (Clarkin et al., 1998; Miklowitz & Goldstein, 1990; Miklowitz et al., 2000; Rea et al., 2003). 5.3 Friendships and social support Another key aspect related to family functioning is that of general social integration and the ability to make best use of social networks. People’s definition of adequate social support varies from individual to individual (Johnson et al., 1999, 2003; Morriss et al., 2007; Romans, 1992). So for some people a small number of close friends or family members can be regarded as all that is necessary, whereas for others a broad ranging network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances are needed. In either case people typically benefit from believing that they can access both practical and emotional support when it is required (Harris et al., 1999). Several studies have examined the relationship between social support and outcomes in bipolar disorder. Overall, these reports show that higher levels of social support are associated with better outcomes including fewer relapses of mania or depression and better recovery if mood episodes do happen (O’Connell et al., 1991; Johnson et al., 2003; Stefos et al., 1996). Good social relationships are also associated with greater likelihood of the person with a bipolar diagnosis gaining employment and functioning better in the work environment (Hammen et al., 2000; Wilkins, 2004). 5.4 Life events Individuals who have had more stressful life experiences seem to be at more risk for the development of bipolar disorder. Stressful life experiences seem to be particularly important in triggering earlier episodes of mania or depression (Ambelas, 1987). There is also evidence that individuals with a bipolar diagnosis who had greater problems in their childhood have more frequent problems with mood episodes as adults (Dienes et al., 2006). Also, people with a vulnerability to extreme mood states sometimes find day-to-day problems more stressful than do individuals with no bipolar diagnosis (McPherson et al., 1993; Myin-Germeys et al., 2003). The impact of stressful life experiences is likely to also be linked to how people think about their situations and also to having access to social support. In addition to general life events there is increasing evidence that a proportion of people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder have experienced traumatic events in childhood. Helping individuals overcome the psychological consequences of such events can therefore form an important part of psychological therapies for some people. Stressful life events also influence people’s outcomes after bipolar disorder has been diagnosed. So, research has shown that higher levels of life stress are linked to higher rates of relapse and slower recovery from mood episodes in individuals with a bipolar diagnosis (Ellicott et al., 1990; Johnson & Miller, 1997).

Part 2: Causes

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Understanding Bipolar Disorder  

This report was written by a working party of clinical psychologists who were chosen because of their particular expertise on the subject of...

Understanding Bipolar Disorder  

This report was written by a working party of clinical psychologists who were chosen because of their particular expertise on the subject of...