Bipolar Disorder & Mental Health Research

Last Updated: 24 Jan 2022
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The latest research discoveries, studies, and updates on bipolar disorder and depression that report on new ways to prevent, detect, and treat mental health conditions.

health research study bipolar disorder

People with Bipolar Require Closer Monitoring of Cardiovascular Health in Middle Age

January 1, 2022, LONDON, United Kingdom—People with bipolar disorder are more prone to cardiovascular and body composition changes over their lifetimes that can put them at higher risk of reduced life span, a new study has found.

British researchers, noting people with the disorder have a reduced life expectancy and may experience accelerated biological aging, looked at hundreds of thousands of people between the ages of 37 and 73.

The study found differences in measurements such as blood pressure and pulse rate in people with bipolar compared to people without the disorder, but discrepancies were most evident for cardiovascular function in both sexes and body composition measures in women.

The authors said targeted screening for cardiovascular and metabolic health in middle age is warranted to potentially mitigate higher risk of mortality among people with bipolar.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was entitled “Age-related changes in physiology in individuals with bipolar disorder.”


Measure of brain activity may distinguish bipolar I depression from unipolar type

January 15, 2022, CHANGSHA, China—Focusing on a small part of the basil ganglia area of the brain may point the way to a future diagnostic aid to distinguish between unipolar depression and bipolar type I depression, a small study suggests.

Chinese researchers, noting that unipolar depression and bipolar I depression are prone to misdiagnosis in clinical practice, used what’s called “dynamical fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations,” or dfALFF, to study the brains of people with both conditions while in a resting state.

The process measures spontaneous activity in the brain, such as functional connectivity (how well different regions of the brain communicate), while in a resting state—that is, not consciously engaged by any task or outside stimulation.

The study found that compared to people with unipolar depression, people with bipolar I had significantly decreased “dfALFF temporal variability” in the area of the brain known as the left putamen. A control group of individuals with neither diagnosis showed they had higher temporal variability than in either kind of depression.

The findings build on previous research showing differences in temporal variability in other brain regions between individuals with unipolar depression versus bipolar depression, including early in the course of illness.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was entitled “Dynamical regional activity in putamen distinguishes bipolar type I depression and unipolar depression.”


Childhood trauma doesn’t appear to influence effects of medication versus therapy for bipolar

January 1, 2022, GEELONG, Australia—Authors of a new study said more dedicated research is needed to determine how adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder who experienced childhood trauma respond to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic interventions.

Australian researchers analyzed 12 previous studies on the subject that involved almost 1,200 people to try to determine the impact of the different interventions. Their findings suggest that childhood trauma was unrelated to treatment response to medication versus therapy, but may be associated with greater improvement in global functioning during treatment.

They called for additional research using larger samples of participants in order to shed light on possible links between childhood trauma and response to treatment for bipolar.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was entitled “The influence of childhood trauma on the treatment outcomes of pharmacological and/or psychological interventions for adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”


Factors that delay accurate diagnosis identified

January 1, 2022, VANCOUVER, B.C.—A new study has shed light on the factors that delay accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorders, which often doesn’t happen until years after onset of symptoms.

Canadian and American researchers looked at people with bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder to identify factors related to diagnosis delay. They found the median delay was five years for bipolar I and 11 years for bipolar II.

An earlier age of onset, history of [severe depression], and co-existing anxiety disorders were associated with a longer delay to diagnosis of bipolar. Presence of lifetime psychotic symptoms and psychiatric hospitalizations were associated with a shorter delay.

An older age at which professional help was first sought and a younger age of onset predicted a longer delay in diagnosis for both types of bipolar, while a first mood episode dominated by  depressive symptoms predicted a longer delay in diagnosis only with bipolar I.

The authors said the findings highlight the need for strategies for earlier identification and interventions in bipolar disorder.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was entitled “Clinical and demographic factors associated with delayed diagnosis of bipolar disorder: Data from Health Outcomes and Patient Evaluations in Bipolar Disorder (HOPE-BD) study.”


Heart rate variability may be marker of bipolar

December 20, 2021, OSLO, Norway—Differences in the body’s automatic (or autonomic) regulation of the cardiovascular system may be a biomarker of bipolar disorder severity, a new study suggests.

Norwegian researchers noted that a growing body of evidence links psychiatric disorders with cardiac autonomic dysregulation, which can cause symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations, and lightheadedness.

In comparing groups of people with and without bipolar disorder, they found variations in heart rate variability based on exterior factors such as exercise was significantly lower in people with bipolar than in the control group. With lower heart rate variability, a person’s heart rate may remain too high or too low instead of fluctuating with demands on the circulatory system.

The authors said that more severe cases of bipolar were associated with worse autonomic dysfunction, which indicates that heart rate variability may be useful as a physical measure, or biomarker, to gauge the nature of an individual’s bipolar illness.

The study, which appeared in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, was entitled “Heart rate variability is associated with disease severity in psychosis spectrum disorders.”


Screening tool could improve diagnosis of psychiatric disorders at primary care level

December 1, 2021, DENTON, TX—American researchers have determined that a two-part electronic screening tool known as the Connected Mind Fast Check has high accuracy overall in assessing six common mental disorders, although the tool’s sensitivity to bipolar disorder lagged in some measures.

The study authors noted that primary care doctors often face the need to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders in their practices, highlighting the importance of an effective screening tool that can be used in that setting.

They found the Connected Mind Fast Check was highly sensitive and missed very few diagnoses, identifying disorders even in individuals who lacked insight into their psychological distress.

Although the module for diagnosing bipolar disorder faced the most challenges, the authors said, it still functioned well in differentiating symptom severity.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Psychology in Medical Settings, was entitled “Identifying mental disorders in primary care: Diagnostic accuracy of the Connected Mind Fast Check (CMFC) electronic screen.”


Individuals with bipolar who want to work would like stronger supports and flexibility

December 1, 2021, MELBOURNE, Australia—Individuals with bipolar who are unemployed report more perceived barriers to finding and keeping a job than those who are currently employed, a new study has found.

Perceived barriers to employment typically include both internal factors (such as self-confidence in one’s abilities) and external conditions (levels of education and training, inflexible employment situations, discrimination and employer misconceptions of disability, and practical issues such as transportation and child care).

Australian researchers divided participants with bipolar into those with or without jobs and asked about their perceptions of common barriers to and facilitators of employment.

They found levels of absenteeism and termination of last position were strongly associated with “mental ill health.” In addition, while the vast majority (93 per cent) of unemployed participants expressed a desire to be working, the group as a whole reflected a stronger sense of perceived limitations.

Increased supports and flexible work strategies were seen as ways to help people with bipolar stay in the work force.

The study, which appeared in the journal The Psychiatric Quarterly, was entitled “Understanding the barriers and facilitators to employment for people with bipolar disorder.”


Use of machine learning in psychiatry may give early warning of depressive relapse in bipolar

December 1, 2021, SAO PAULO, Brazil—Machine learning—a technique that uses models generated from large sets of data to help predict outcomes for an individual—holds promise in anticipating depressive relapse in bipolar disorder, according to a new study.

Brazilian researchers assessed the effectiveness of four accepted machine learning algorithms by following 800 people whose bipolar symptoms were in remission for one year. Over the course of the study, 507 patients presented depressive relapse and 293 did not.

They found the algorithms showed “reasonable” performance in terms of predicting depressive relapse. The three most important symptoms observed in relapse were levels of interest, energy, and depressive mood.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was entitled “Exploring machine learning to predict depressive relapses of bipolar disorder patients.”


Staying on medication during stable mood greatly reduces risk of symptom recurrence

November 1, 2021, TOYOAKE, Japan—People with bipolar disorder who stay on prescribed maintenance medication are much less likely to have a recurrence of symptoms, a new study has found.

Japanese researchers analyzed more than 20 studies to look at differences between people with bipolar who discontinued treatment of antipsychotics or mood stabilizers and those who remained on maintenance treatment.

The study found that at the six-month point, people on maintenance medication had lower recurrence rates across three categories: any mood episode, depressive episodes, and manic/hypomanic/mixed episodes.

While nearly half of people who discontinued treatment didn’t experience a mood recurrence during the six months, discontinuation of medications for more than a month significantly increased recurrence risk. Meanwhile, maintaining drug treatment during clinically stable bipolar prevented recurrence for up to 24 months,

The study, which appeared in the journal Psychological Medicine, was entitled “Recurrence rates in stable bipolar disorder patients after drug discontinuation v. drug maintenance: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”


Printed as “Researchline,” Winter 2022

3 Comments
  1. I enjoy reading the more scientific articles….. thank you for all the new information / studies.
    I was particularly interested in the discussion on employment ….. I find my daughter “assumes” she is somewhat unemployable due to her mental health issues. She is currently employed… partially due to my connections and my help to keep up with the schedule, and to keep her general and mental health issues in check. I’m very concerned about what will happen to her if I am not around for some reason. I’m thankful for this forum for the information

  2. This is a very enlightening article. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great info! Thank you.

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