Academic Performance and Bipolar Risk
A new study out of Sweden, covering nearly 1 million Swedish students, provides some of the best evidence so far on the correlations between intelligence and bipolar disorder.
Researchers looked at 907,011 students in Sweden and cross-referenced their academic records to hospital admission records.
They found that students who performed very well in school had over 3x the risk of eventually developing bipolar disorder as adults. Those with the lowest performance had about twice the risk of developing bipolar disorder compared to the average student.
Academic performance is of course not a perfect proxy for IQ. There are many factors that go into academic performance including socioeconomic status and personal motivation. However, it is an easily quantifiable metric that is relevant to most of us, since we all know how grades and exams work.
Intelligence vs Mental Health
Academic Performance and Bipolar Risk in Boys
This link has a very strong gender component.
The relationship between academic performance and Bipolar risk is stronger in boys. Boys who do very well in school have the highest risk of all, with over 4x the risk of developing Bipolar Disorder as adults.
Academic Performance and Bipolar Risk in Girls
Girls do not show this same effect. Girls who do very well in school do not have any increase in risk of Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar Disorder Risk vs Subject Performance
Not all subjects correlate equally with Bipolar Risk. Subjects in the humanities and those involving creativity have stronger associations with Bipolar Disorder risk.
Performing well in sports on the other hand has a protective effect against Bipolar Disorder. Students who received top grades in sports had about half the risk of developing Bipolar Disorder.
GPA vs Bipolar Disorder Risk
The chart above shows the estimated risk of bipolar disorder at every level of academic performance in Sweden based on this dataset. The risk curve shows a very clear "U" curve, where those at the two ends of performance have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than those in the middle.
This study provides a very revealing look into the relationship between academic performance and bipolar disorder risk.
While academic performance is not a great representation of intelligence, it does shed light on a potential link between intelligence and bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder is a very serious condition, but it is also very treatable. If you or a family member has bipolar disorder, get seen and treated. Medications and therapy work well for many individuals suffering from this condition. As the NIH writes:
Treatment helps many people—even those with the most severe forms of bipolar disorder—gain better control of their mood swings and other bipolar symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”).