Impaired interpersonal, social, and occupational functioning is very often observed in patients with bipolar disorder, not only at the acute stages of the illness but in remission as well. This finding raises the question of multiple factors that might affect psychosocial functioning in bipolar patients, such as residual subsyndromal symptoms and neuropsychological deficits. Social cognition impairment, especially impaired Theory of Mind (ToM), might also play an important role in bipolar patients’ every-day functioning, similarly to what was found in patients with schizophrenia. The present study aimed to investigate the potential effect of clinical and cognitive factors on the psychosocial functioning of patients with bipolar disorder during remission, assessing ToM along with a broad range of basic cognitive functions. Forty-nine patients with bipolar disorder type I in remission and 53 healthy participants were assessed in general intelligence, working memory, attention, speed processing, verbal learning and memory, and executive functions using a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests. The Faux Pas Recognition Test was used to assess ToM. The two groups were matched for gender, age and education level. The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HDRS), the Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS), and the Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) were also administered to the patients. Every-day functioning was assessed with the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF). In order to examine the contribution of many factors in psychosocial functioning, we used hierarchical multiple regression analysis. Bipolar patients presented significant impairment compared to healthy participants in all the basic cognitive functions tested with the exception of verbal memory. Moreover, patients had significant poorer performance than healthy controls in overall psyand cognitive ToM but not in affective ToM as measured by Faux Pas. Psychosocial functioning in patient group was significantly correlated to symptom severity–especially depressive (p<0.001) and psychotic symptoms (p=0.001), history of psychotic episodes (p=0.031) and ToM, overall (p=0.001) as well as its cognitive (p=0.023) and affective (p=0.004) components. Only the contribution of ToM in psychosocial functioning remained significant in the final multiple regression model. The findings of the current study indicate that residual symptoms and cognitive dysfunctions, especially deficits in social cognition, negatively affect psychosocial functioning of remitted patients with bipolar disorder. Moreover, our results suggest that ToM may play a central role in these patients’ functioning. ToM is a mediator of the relationship between other clinical or cognitive variables and functioning, while it has also significant effect on social skills independently of other factors. Therefore, specific therapeutic interventions targeting social cognitive dysfunction might improve functional outcome in bipolar disorder. Putative contribution of other clinical characteristics (comorbid personality disorders, substance abuse, anxiety) and psychosocial factors (stigma, self-stigma, lack of social network) in bipolar patients’ functioning should be examined in future studies.

Key words: Social functioning, cognitive dysfunction, Theory of Mind, social cognition, bipolar disorder, remission.

G. Konstantakopoulos, N. Ioannidi, M. Typaldou, D. Sakkas, P. Oulis† - Full article