NEW SURVEY: Understanding the Lived Experience of Thinking Skill Difficulties & Bipolar Disorder

on May 30, 2024
NEW SURVEY: Understanding the Lived Experience of Thinking Skill Difficulties & Bipolar Disorder

Often, when we think and talk about mental health, we focus on mood and emotions. This is particularly true for bipolar disorder, which makes sense because bipolar disorder is most well recognised for fluctuations in mood. But there is another aspect of human functioning that is relevant to our mental health and wellbeing, especially in the context of mood disorders like bipolar disorder. That is, our ‘cognition’ – or put more simply, our ‘thinking skills’!

Thinking skills refer to mental functions like attention, information processing, memory, language and problem solving. Our brains and minds are incredible, ticking away and coordinating all these thinking skills to support us as we move through life. So, it is part of the human experience to have ups and downs with these skills. However, in recent years researchers have demonstrated that thinking skill difficulties can be particularly associated with bipolar disorder.


It is estimated that many people living with bipolar disorder experience some degree of measurable and persistent thinking skill difficulties, not only during active mood episodes, but also when mood symptoms are more settled. Such thinking skill difficulties can include, for example, brain fog, not remembering information, a shorter concentration span, difficulty planning and undertaking scheduled tasks, and not always being able to pick up on social cues (such as facial expressions) in the environment.

These kinds of difficulties can massively impact the ability to function at work, hold down a job, interact socially, or participate in educational or community activities. They can also negatively affect the ability to complete important daily tasks, such as remembering to take medications, to do the housework and to exercise etc.

Current Research:

Most research on bipolar disorder has measured thinking skills using paper and pencil and computerised tasks, with around 40-60% of people in bipolar disorder studies having been found to have some thinking skill difficulties. However, the tests we currently use to measure thinking skills are imperfect, and are typically only used when conditions are optimal, such as when those being tested are well rested, in quiet rooms, and with lots of support from the person administering the test.

In reality, thinking skills are relied on under far more complicated circumstances, which is why we at the Mood-Psychosis Spectrum Research Group think that the number of people with bipolar disorder experiencing thinking skill difficulties is much higher than previously thought. This underestimation may be, in part, because thinking skill difficulties are sometimes dismissed by treating doctors, or not taken as seriously as other bipolar disorder symptoms.

Underestimating thinking skill difficulties and not understanding their full impact on the lived experience of bipolar disorder could be preventing the appropriate allocation of research attention and funding so that we can better understand the condition.

Limited research attention and funding, of course, impacts our ability as researchers to develop more effective treatments to target symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as thinking skill difficulties, which are unfortunately not alleviated by common treatments for bipolar disorder that already exist.

The Study:

Although the Mood-Psychosis Spectrum Research Group is based at the University of Melbourne in Australia, we are fortunate that the digital age of the internet has allowed us to become part of the CREST.BD network, which has given us the opportunity to connect with all of you reading this now!

We are a group of researchers focussed on better understanding thinking skill changes as they relate to mental health conditions, and we are currently leading an international online survey investigating the subjective experience of thinking skills in bipolar disorder, and you are invited to participate!

The survey, called ‘liVed experIence of cognitive difficultieS In BipoLar, depression and psychosEs’ or ‘VISIBLE’ for short, is amongst the first to gather extensive first-hand information on the lived experience of thinking skill difficulties in adults with bipolar disorder and related mental health conditions.

If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression, or a schizophrenia spectrum disorder, you can participate by providing your perspectives and input regarding how your thinking skills change for better or for worse alongside your mental health condition. Specifically, we want to understand more about how ups and downs in your thinking skills impact your life, relate to your other symptoms, and are dealt with by your doctors. We also want to know what research you think researchers should be doing to better understand them.

We developed this survey with input from people who have bipolar disorder themselves, to ensure that it is relevant to you and your needs. The survey is approved by an ethics committee, and although it is not compensated, by participating you can help to influence the direction of research in this area and the way in which thinking skill difficulties are recognised and addressed.

Anyone, aged 18+ that lives with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and/or schizophrenia spectrum disorders can participate. This participation is voluntary, and all responses are anonymous.

We hope that this survey will help us to:

  • Create a record of thinking skill experiences associated with bipolar disorder
  • Develop peer resources related to how individuals with bipolar disorder manage their thinking skills on a day-to-day basis
  • Determine priorities for research that we, and other researchers, can take in future
  • Inform treating doctors that thinking skills should be considered, if not prioritised, in the management of bipolar disorder

The survey takes around ~35 minutes to complete. You can find out more by contacting the MPSG team via ✉ or reading the information sheet/accessing the survey here.

If you’re interested in participating in other research conducted by us you can register here (and it doesn’t matter where you are located in the world).

I would like to participate.
Fill Out Survey

I am interested in more research.
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We hope you can participate and look forward to providing some project updates throughout the year!


The Mood – Psychosis Spectrum Research Group at The University of Melbourne, Australia, aims to understand links between the brain, cognition and behaviour in bipolar disorder and related illnesses on the mood-psychosis spectrum. We focus on characterising neurocognitive and social cognitive functioning in these illnesses and ascertaining their mechanisms and moderators using behavioural, neuroimaging and neurobiological techniques.

Associate Professor Tamsyn Van Rheenen is pictured on the far right and Ms. Georgia Caruana is next to her.

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