Bipolar disorder (BD) is a significant cause of functional, cognitive, and social impairment. However, classic studies of functioning and social skills have not investigated how BD may impact behavior on the Internet. Given that the digital age has been changing the way people communicate, this study aims to investigate the pattern of Internet use in patients with BD.
This cross-sectional study assessed 30 patients with BD I or II and 30 matched controls. Patients were not in an acute mood episode, according to DSM-IV. A standard protocol examined sociodemographic variables and social behavior on the Internet, assessed by Facebook number of friends (FBN) and lifetime estimated number of offline contacts (social network number, SNN).
SNN (p<0.001) and FBN (p = 0.036) of patients with BD were significantly lower than those of controls. Also, variables related with Internet use were significantly lower in patients, e.g., close contacts on Facebook (p = 0.021), Internet experience (p = 0.020), and knowledge of terms associated with social networking sites (p = 0.042). Also, patients showed lower rates of the expected pattern of Internet use (based on their age generation), including a poorer knowledge of SNS (p = 0.018) and a lower frequency of Internet use (p = 0.010).
This study suggests that patients with BD show smaller social networks both in real-world settings and on the Internet. Also, patients tend to use the Internet and social networking sites less frequently and show a poorer knowledge of Internet and social media than healthy controls, below the expected for their generation. These significant differences between patients and controls suggest that the effects of BD on social relationships and functioning extend to electronic media.