What Personality Tests Can Tell Us About Bipolar Disorder

Patient Expert

In a recent blog, I mentioned how my introversion can be a severe handicap in situations where I should be mingling. It is also the greatest threat to my mental health.

In 2003, I asked my Newsletter readers to take an online Myers-Briggs personality test and email the results, along with their diagnosis. When I analyzed the first 100 results I was astounded to find 83 percent of us were introverts. This sharply contrasts with the 25 percent to be found in the general population. What gives?

Just about all those who replied either had depression or bipolar disorder. Keep in mind that our population tends to be depressed way more than manic. The ratio is about four days depressed to one day manic or hypomanic for those with bipolar I and 50 days depressed to one day hypomanic for those with bipolar II. So we were dealing overwhelmingly with Eeyores rather than Tiggers.

For those who might reply that people who use the Internet tend to be loners, a University of North Carolina study corroborates my findings (74 percent introverts among a depressed population).

So what's wrong with isolation? Writes David Janowsky MD, lead author of the above study and similar studies: "Increased introversion predicts the persistence of depressive symptoms and a lack of remission." Basically, our tendency to isolate sets us up for depression, which in turns worsens our depression. We fail to reach out to others, and this "may set the scene for suicidality."

Wrote one of my readers who took the poll: "If I may draw a conclusion, those of us who can break through isolation and make contact with others, could be better able to keep the depression at bay."

My poll also found that my readers' introversion came bundled in a set of personality traits that best describes us as "mystics" and "dreamers." Mystics and dreamers, who each make up but one percent of the general population, comprised 17 and 14 percent, respectively, of my poll.

Can you see a problem developing? We're outsiders by nature; we don't fit in with the rest of the population. We generally prefer the solace of our rich inner worlds to the shallowness and stupidity of the people we encounter outside.

"We ARE NOT like others and do not want to be. The advice that we would be better off somehow by getting out more often and mingling with the very people we can't relate to makes no sense at all."

Very good point. The last thing we need in our lives are the kind of jerks Greg alludes to, but Femlite reported her success in finding fellow souls through spending long periods of time in monasteries. "There I was," she wrote, "in a true community, no longer alone, eating, prayer and working, no longer isolated, but alone together. I hope this makes sense. Community is vitally important to sanity."

I have found my own community among the people I share this illness with, and this may be the most important part of my wellness program. Yes, enjoy your time alone, but do appreciate that your recovery may depend on your ability to break out of your natural comfort zone and get connected. Attend a support group, do volunteer work, sign up for tap dance lessons or cooking classes, join a religious community - pick one or two, stop rationalizing and just do it.

Believe me, I could happily live in a cave in Tibet, but I guarantee the result would be the last thing from Buddhahood. My road to peace of mind, alas, is one that takes me through the hustle and bustle of the marketplace. After all these years, I'm finally learning my lesson.

Take the online Myers-Briggs test.