Bright teenagers: at risk for what?

A recent study from Sweden, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (1), appears to confirm a link between high ability and bipolar disorder. Over seven hundred thousand teenagers were followed up to see if they were admitted to psychiatric hospital in their twenties and thirties. Then their school examination grades at 16 years were compared with those of the other students who had not developed such severe mental and behavioural problems.

The adults with bipolar disorder had done better in exams as teenagers, especially in humanities subjects such as Swedish and History (but not Art). Those who had been good at Sport seemed to have a lower chance of developing bipolar disorder later.

This is an interesting study which is in keeping with the suggested link between bipolar disorder and creative ability. However, it does not mention the possibility that adult ADD / ADHD, which also can sometimes lead to hospital admission, may have been the real problem in many cases. Like much research of this kind, the diagnosis was made a long time ago (1988 – 1997), when there was even more scepticism about adult ADD / ADHD than there is now (2).



(1) Excellent school performance at age 16 and risk of adult bipolar disorder: national cohort study.  

(2) For an example of how creative ability may be linked to ADD / ADHD, see my Blog piece on Vincent Van Gogh:

Published at on 14th May 2010; transferred to on 7th October 2011

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About Dr Neil MacFarlane MRCPsych

Independent Psychiatrist providing culturally informed mental health opinion, advice, and a few new facts. Based near London, UK. Main qualifications: BA MBBS MA MRCPsych.

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