How Do Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder Impact Well-Being?

Mental Illness and Well-Being

There is certainly extensive understandings of the broader implications of mental illnesses, but how do they impact your well-being, and what can we learn from these disorders in that regard? In this article, we'll cover three: Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder and Well-Being

Depressed individuals are insensitive to environmental changes, regardless of whether events are positively or negatively valenced. They shut down. Across contexts, people with depression show emotional inertia or a resistance to change (Bylsma, Morris, & Rottenberg, 2008; Rottenberg & Gotlib, 2004).

Because social acceptance is central to the basic tenets of evolutionary survival and reproduction, it makes sense that depressed adults reported fewer occurrences of positive social interactions but experienced greater well-being benefits when they occurred (Allen & Badcock, 2003; Watson & Andrews, 2002).

Depressed people are characterized by emotional inertia, in which prior emotions are strongly predictive of future emotions to the point of being rigid or frozen in time, irrespective of what is occurring around them (Kuppens et al., 2012).

There’s a bidirectional effect. Positive emotionality (positive affect, extraversion, and behavioral activation) prospectively predicted decreases in depression, and depression predicted subsequent decreases in positive emotionality (Khazanov & Ruscio, 2016).

Many of us may identify with wanting to be alone when we're sad or depressed, but research supports the effect of "getting out there," spending time with people who love us, and seeking out positive experiences will help.

Bipolar Disorder and Well-Being

In an effort to prevent the onset of mania, people with bipolar sometimes avoid some of life’s most rewarding, pleasurable experiences. This is the crux of the impact on their well-being. Finding this to be the case, bipolar individuals may want to look into emotion regulation strategies such as mindfulness. These strategies keep people rooted in the present without any attempt at altering ongoing experiences. This may be a more adaptive alternative (Gilbert & Gruber, 2014). 

As an aside, with bipolar disorder, individuals are suspected to be more creative than the average population (Johnson et al., 2012). Analyses of highly creative musicians, writers, poets, and politicians identify a meaningful number who likely experienced bipolar disorder at some point in their lives: Ernest Hemingway, Ludwig von Beethoven, Sylvia Plath, Georgia O'Keeffe, Vincent Van Gogh, Robert Schumann, and Winston Churchill, among others (Jamison, 1989; Weisberg, 1994).

Social Anxiety Disorder and Well-Being

People with social anxiety disorder believe their personal characteristics are deficient, flawed, or contrary to perceived social norms. Upon having their personal flaws exposed to others, they worry about being evaluated unfavorably and ultimately rejected (Clark & Wells, 1995; Heimberg, Brozovich, & Rapee, 2010; Moscovitch, 2009).

As an act of self-protection, people with social anxiety disorder try to conceal perceived deficiencies and refrain from expressing intense emotions that might draw unwanted attention (Heimberg et al., 2010; Moscovitch & Huyder, 2011).

People with social anxiety disorder fear being judged both positively and negatively. These fears contribute to positive and negative emotional suppression (Turk, Heimberg, Luterek, Mennin, & Fresco, 2005). And when they suppress these emotions, it has this future impact on positive events and emotions in their life.

It's of course easier said than done that those with social anxiety disorder should learn to embrace their emotions and learn to live with them, not suppress them. But this too could apply to the rest of us as well. If you ever find yourself hiding behind suppressed emotions, ask what your true motive is and what would be best for you. You may just need a safe space to be felt and understood.



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