Clinical Science and Bipolar Disorder

An Unquiet mind is an autobiography written by Dr. Kay Jamison. Her bipolar disorder is the focus of the book, as it explains her life and how is contributes to her existence. Bipolar disorder, also known as Manic depressive illness is a brain disorder that leads to unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and ability to carry out day to day tasks. Dr. Jamison’s childhood was filled with travel, as her father was in the Air Force as a scientist. Her bipolar comes from her father’s side of the family, as he also suffered from it. After he left the air force, his mood swings got worse and led to alcoholism and costing him his job and marriage. During this time, when she was in high school, Dr. Jamison noticed her mood swings more, between weeks of high energy and weeks or lethargy. It was around this time, after she joined the faculty as UCLA that her manic episodes began to escalate wildly and psychotically out of control and she began to experience full psychosis.

She grew more impulsive, spent money uncontrollable, her relationship with her husband was weakening and she became suicidal. She was diagnosed with manic depressive illness and put on lithium, different from the batteries, if used to treat bipolar depression and is still being used today. Though back in those days, the dosage they prescribe was near fatal. This led to bad side effects and cycles of her tasking it and not taking it. She grew suicidal again, though was stopped because of a phone call from her brother. After that, she got helped back on track by family and eventually made Tenure at UCLA. After talking about her life, Dr. Jamison talks about the terminology and facets of Manic-depressive illness. She talks about how she does not like the modern term Bipolar disorder for her illness as it is not an improvement but also not accurate. She talks about how terminology affects our understanding and stigmatization of a mental illness.

She also talks about how her experience with a physician led to questions about how when we can identify a genetic marker in an illness, will it lead to less interesting society, because of the association between manic depressive illness and imaginative people. In the epilogue, Dr. Jamison talks about what it may have been too lived without manic depressive illness and said that given the choice, and given the existence of lithium, she would choose to have it again, because despite the psychotic episodes, she believes she lives a more vivid interesting life as a result. My father is diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. He’s been on medication so long that I don’t remember him with any of his symptoms, other than some alcoholism and getting very angry. Sometimes I always wonder if there may come a time where I may end up with the same thing, even though I currently have none of the symptoms, just has her father and his family history led to her being diagnosed with the same thing.

Her symptoms would affect my life in a way.I’m not really sure how these symptoms would impact my own life. I don’t know that I would be nearly as successful as she was in her life, becoming a tenured professor at UCLA. Having it would make my life harder. The constant jumping around through episodes that last weeks in a row, would become tiring and draining after a little while. My overall life would be much harder than it is now. As I am what some people call neurotypical, I do not currently suffer from any depressive or anxiety states. Because of this, it is hard for me to even think of how my life would be affected from the manic-depressive illness. It would obviously be extremely different than it is now. It would lead to problems with my relationships with my family members as well as my workplace. I work two jobs, plus go to school full time, which I do not believe would be as possible for me to do all of this as well as deal with the constant changes in mood.

The Happiness Trap talks about the treatment of ACT. Act stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The aim of ACT is to help someone live a rich, full, and meaningful life while effectively handling the pain that life inevitably brings. ACT proposes to achieve this through the use of 6 principles. Those 6 principles are Defusion, Expansion, Connection, observing yourself, Values and Committed Action. Behind all of this is the rationale behind what is known as the happiness trap. The trap is basically the unhealthy and inaccurate thoughts people from around happiness, such like happiness is a natural state for all humans or if you aren’t happy you must be defective. The book has three parts, the first explaining the happiness trap as well as how to escape it. Harris says the first step is to increase self-awareness and keep a journal to keep track of all the little things you do to suppress your thoughts or feelings as well as the consequences that come with them. The second part of the book goes into detail about the 6 principles behind ACT.

The first is Defusion, which is the process of relating your thoughts in a new way, so they have less of an impact on you. Expansion, the second principle is about making room for unpleasant feelings instead of trying to suppress them. Because of this Harris says they will begin to bother you less. Connection is about connecting fully with what is happening then and there instead of dwelling on the past later or worrying about the future. Observing self is a powerful aspect of the mind. Values, the fifth principle is about clarifying and connecting with your values for a more meaningful life. These values provide direction and motivate you toward important changes. Finally, there is committed Action which results in a meaningful life that was created through effective action that is motivated by your values.The final part explains how to use what you learned to create a life worth living. That instead of trying to escape from unhappy thoughts or always having happiness up front, you should focus on trying to create a rich and meaningful life.

Harris touches on values again because they are an important thing in life that gives us direction as well as motivation. By following our values, life again can be full and meaningful, even when bad things happen. There is a difference between values and goals, which also can lead and motivate us. A value is a direction that we keep moving in even though there is never an end. A goal is something that can be achieved. Harris uses the example of always traveling westward as a desire or value. There’s always more west to go. A goal is trying to cross a river or mountain. Once it’s done, it is done. Many lives are goal focused, where things are measured in material things. ACT emphasizes a values focused lie where we can enjoy the journey and live in the present. ACT could help with the problems of the depressive episodes in the manic-depressive state. By using the 6 principles, you could be able to help make those episodes not as bad.

By allowing yourself to understand that a constant state of happiness is not only unreasonable and unhealthy, it can help create psychological flexibility.  By using defusion, thinking of those depressive thoughts in a new way could help make them have less of an impact on you, helping the depressed person not feel as bad about their behavior. Expansion may not be the best thing to do during a depressive episode, but during a manic episode, it could help balance out the feelings by allowing that mixture of emotion. Connection could help center a person during a psychotic episode to get their bearings and try to bring themselves back to center, even if it is just by a little bit.

By focusing on the values, it can help connect to a more meaningful life, worth living and that it isn’t as bad as it seems. Committed action happens through gaining those values and being motivated through them. That psychological flexibility that comes from mindfulness, values and committed actions leads to the ability to adapt to a situation with awareness and focus to take effective action on the situation and what is needed to be done to return to center. Also, by finding out values instead of goals could help in the manic episodes. By putting forth values it can help make it harder for impulsive natures. By getting rid of that goal focused life where success is only measured in material things and achievements, less crazy spending could happen as well as alcoholism.


  1. Harris, Russ. “The Happiness Trap.” Full Text of ‘The Happiness Trap’, London : F. Warne ; New York : Scribner, Welford, and Armstrong,
  2. TheHappinessTrap/The-Happiness- Trap_djvu.txt. Jamison, Kay R. An Unquiet Mind. New York :Vintage Books, 1996.
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Clinical science and bipolar disorder. (2022, Jul 01). Retrieved August 10, 2022 , from

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