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Bipolar Disorder and the Gifted Child

Links between bipolar disorder, intelligence and creativity and how they impact the gifted learner

Linda Frederick

on 18 June 2014

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Transcript of Bipolar Disorder and the Gifted Child

What causes it?
- Bipolar is a primarily biological disorder that occurs in the brain.
- Chemical messengers that do not function properly (neurotransmitters: norepinephrine or serotonin)
- Because it is biological it can either lie dormant and start on its own or be triggered by external factors or stressful circumstances

Manic Phase Symptoms
• heightened sense of self-importance
• exaggerated positive outlook
• significantly decreased need for sleep
• poor appetite and weight loss
• racing speech, flight of ideas, impulsiveness
• ideas that move quickly from one subject to the next
• poor concentration, easily distracted
• increased activity level
• excessive involvement in pleasurable activities
• poor financial choices, rash spending sprees
• excessive irritability, aggressive behavior

Educational Issues
often highly gifted, but may have difficulty making transitions
highly distracted, inattentive, anxious or very perfectionist
medications make them sleepy or cause cognitive difficulties
many have associated learning disabilities and executive function deficits which make it extremely difficult for them to organize and break things down and accomplish complex tasks
affected ability to correctly process facial expressions and the emotional meaning of language; this affects relationships with peers

Definition of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar affective disorder, manic-depressive disorder, or manic depression, is a mental illness classified by psychiatry as a mood disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience episodes of an elevated or agitated mood known as mania alternating with episodes of depression.
Depression Phase Symptoms
Low mood or sadness
Trouble concentrating, making decisions, decreased memory
Eating problems-weight loss or gain
Fatigue, Trouble sleeping
Feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless
Decreased self-esteem
Thoughts of suicide
Decreased pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Isolation from friends and family

Bipolar link to creativity and being intellectually gifted?
A special risk for bipolar mood disorders exists for those with high creative ability in writing and in the visual arts (Reis, et al, 2014)
This research also found, however, that gifted and talented students can face a number of situations that may constitute sources of risk to their social and emotional development.
No studies were identified that compared rates of bipolar disorder among gifted and nongifted youth.
Despite this growing awareness and knowledge about 2E students, identification systems and appropriate services have yet to be fully developed or implemented for this population of learners (Reis, et al, 2014).
Gifted students with learning disabilities are often misunderstood because their giftedness can mask their disabilities and their disabilities can camouflage their talents.
(Reis & Renzulli, 2004)
(Reis, et al, 2014)
When one also considers that these children have an illness which causes their ability to focus and energy levels to wax and wane (often according to the season) it’s not hard for parents and educators to realize these children need special accommodations in school (JBRF).
Leta Hollingworth (1942) provided a new angle on the issue by suggesting that it is a subset of the gifted and talented population who experience poor mental health and social adjustment – namely those ‘exceptionally gifted’ individuals who are in the top 0.01 per cent in terms of nationally standardized intelligence tests (Hansen, 1992).
Those supporting the ‘risk factor’ position argue that gifted and talented individuals are more likely to be socially isolated by their peer group because of their high abilities, and that they will also feel the emotional pressure from this and other interpersonal conflicts more intensely than non-gifted young people – which in turn leads to greater vulnerability to difficulties with psychological well-being (Neihart, 1999).
During the early stages of a manic episode, people can be very happy, productive and creative. They have less need for sleep and don’t feel tired. There is some evidence that many well-known creative people suffer or have suffered from bipolar disorder (Collingwood). People with bipolar disorder have with out a doubt, helped shape the history of the world, in all venues, from the political to the arts to the spiritual and religious. Moses may even have been bipolar - he was impulsive, prone to intense outbursts of anger, ran away from consequences, isolated himself regularly, was a stutterer and had some very important spiritual experiences.
Bipolar is often associated with creativity, verve, and charisma. Here are some famously gifted people who also have bipolar disorder…
Jean-Claude Van Damme, Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe
Artists & Composers
Vincent Van Gogh, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Mozart
Ted Turner
Buzz Aldrin
Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt
Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf (
Whole Psychiatry

Normal giftedness can easily be confused with DSM mental disorder. Gifted kids may talk a lot, have high levels of energy, and be impulsive or inattentive or distractible in some settings –similar to symptoms of ADHD. It’s not unusual for gifted kids to struggle socially, have meltdowns over minor issues, or have unusual all-consuming interests – all pointing to an inappropriate diagnosis of autism. Often perfectionistic, the gifted are more likely to be introverted and may feel alone and alien in a world that doesn’t fully understand them (Frances).
A team from Oregon State University recently looked at the occupational status of a large group of typical patients and found that “those with bipolar illness appear to be disproportionately concentrated in the most creative occupational category.” They also found that the likelihood of “engaging in creative activities on the job” is significantly higher for bipolar than non-bipolar workers (Collingwood).

“It is well-established that people with affective disorders tend to be overrepresented in the creative artist population (especially those with bipolar disorder). Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms” (Rankin).
The 3-5% of kids who are particularly gifted are also at special risk for being tagged with an inappropriate diagnosis of mental disorder. Highly gifted children are a particular diagnostic challenge with errors that can occur both ways. When pediatric diagnoses are carelessly applied, gifted children are frequently mislabeled with ADHD, autistic, depressive, or bipolar disorders. Yet sometimes being gifted effectively hides these same conditions. So, while some gifted kids are erroneously labeled and medicated for mental health disorders they do not have, others are unrecognized for learning or mental disorders they do have.

“Intelligence tests on Swedish 16-year-olds had shown that highly intelligent children were four times as likely to go on to develop the disorder” (Kay Redfield Jamison of John Hopkins school of Medicine)

A recent panel discussion at New York's World Science Fair focused on 20 papers which made an explicit link between high intelligence and creativity (Waugh).
Works Cited
Assouline, S. G., Nicpon, M., & Huber, D. H. (2006). The Impact of Vulnerabilities and Strengths on the Academic Experiences of Twice-Exceptional Students: A Message to School Counselors. Professional School Counseling, 10(1), 14-24.

"Bipolar Celebrities: Does It Make Them More Creative?" Health.com. N.p., 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 June 2014.

"Bipolar Link to Creativity and Being Intellectually Gifted?" MedicineWise. NPS. ABC2, Strawberry Hills, New South Wales, 22 Mar. 2012.YouTube. Web. 10 June 2014.

Collingwood, Jane. "» The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Creativity."Psych Central.com. N.p., Jan. 2010. Web. 10 June 2014.

"Educational Issues Faced by Children with Bipolar Disorder." JBRF RSS. Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation, 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.

"Famous People with Bipolar Disorder | Whole Psychiatry." Whole Psychiatry. N.p., 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 June 2014.

Frances, Allen, M.D. "Giftedness Should Not Be Confused With Mental Disorder." Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness Find a Therapist. N.p., 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 June 2014.

Jones, Timothy W. "Equally Cursed And Blessed: Do Gifted And Talented Children Experience Poorer Mental Health And Psychological Well-Being?." Educational & Child Psychology 30.2 (2013): 44-66. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 June 2014.

Martin, L. T., R. M. Burns, and M. Schonlau. "Mental Disorders Among Gifted and Nongifted Youth: A Selected Review of the Epidemiologic Literature." Gifted Child Quarterly 54.1 (2009): 31-41. Ebscohost. Web. 10 June 2014.

Probst, Barbara. "When Your Child’s Exceptionality Is Emotional: Looking Beyond Psychiatric Diagnosis « SENG." Twice Exceptional Newsletter20 (Jan. 2007): n. pag. SENG. Twice Exceptional Newsletter. Web. 10 June 2014.
Reis, Sally M., and Joseph S. Renzulli. "Current Research on the Social and Emotional Development of Gifted and Talented Students: Good News and Future Possibilities." Psychology in the Schools 41.1 (2004): 119-30. Ebscohost. Web. 10 June 2014.

Reis, Sally M., Susan M. Baum, and Edith Burke. "An Operational Definition of Twice-Exceptional Learners: Implications and Applications." Gifted Child Quarterly 58.3 (2014): 217-30. Ebscohost. Web. 10 June 2014.

Waugh, Rob. "There IS a Link between Genius and Madness - but We Don't Know Why We Evolved This 'gift'" Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 04 June 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.

Wellisch, Mimi, and Jac Brown. "Many Faces of a Gifted Personality: Characteristics Along a Complex Gifted Spectrum." Talent Development & Excellence 5.2 (2013): 43-58. Ebscohost. Web. 10 June 2014.

Tips & Strategies for the Classroom
- Start by throwing out your ideas of what is “normal” behavior for gifted students.
- Modify the classroom environment to reduce the overall stress level.
- Discuss issues regarding sensory elements (light/sound), demands about time (tempo/duration/schedules), and conceptions of space with your students.
-Employ strategies to help students externalize feelings: drawing, writing, recording video or audio, create charts, etc.
- Use Bibliotherapy (reading fiction and non-fiction stories about people with similar circumstances) and Cinematheraphy (Bibliotherapy with film) to help students connect with the stories of others with Bipolar Disorder.

When Gifted Students Have Bipolar Disorder

by Linda Frederick
Full transcript