The World Health Organization ranks bipolar disorder (BD) as the 7th leading cause of disability. Although the effects on those with BD are well described, less is reported on the impact of BD on cohabiting partners or any interactions between the two; this requires in vivo data collection measured each day over several months.
We set out to demonstrate the utility of ecological momentary assessment with BD couples measured using yoked smartphone apps. When randomly prompted over time, we assumed distinct patterns of association would emerge between BD symptoms (both depression and hypo/mania) and partner mood (positive and negative affect).
For this pilot study, we recruited an international sample of young and older adults with BD and their cohabiting partners where available. Both participants and partners downloaded separate apps onto their respective smartphones. Within self-specified “windows of general availability,” participants with BD were randomly prompted to briefly report symptoms of depression and hypo/mania (ie, BDS), positive and negative mood (ie, POMS-15; partners), and any important events of the day (both). The partner app was yoked to the participant app so that the former was prompted roughly 30 minutes after the participant with BD or the next morning if outside the partner’s specified availability.
Four couples provided 312 matched BD symptom and partner mood responses over an average of 123 days (range 65-221 days). Both were GPS- and time-stamped (mean 3:11 hrs between questionnaires, SD 4:51 hrs). Total depression had a small but significant association with positive (r=-.14; P=.02) and negative partner affect (r=.15; P=.01]. Yet total hypo/mania appeared to have no association with positive partner affect (r=-.01; P=.87); instead, negative partner affect was significantly correlated with total hypo/mania (r=.26; P=.01). However, when we look specifically at BD factors, we see that negative partner affect is associated only with affrontive symptoms of hypo/mania (r=.38; P=.01); elation or loss of insight appears unrelated to either positive (r=.10; P=.09) or negative partner affect (r=.02; P=.71). Yet affrontive symptoms of hypo/mania were significantly correlated with negative affect, but only when couples were together (r=.41; P=.01), not when apart (r=.22; P=.12). That is, these angry interpersonal symptoms of hypo/mania appear to be experienced most negatively by spouses when couples are together.
These initial findings demonstrate the utility of in vivo ambulatory data collection in longitudinal mental health research. Preliminary analyses suggest different BD symptoms are associated with negative and positive partner mood. These negative effects appear greater for hypo/mania than depressive symptoms, but proximity to the person with BD is important.

©Mor Yerushalmi, Andrew Sixsmith, Ariel Pollock Star, David B King, Norm O’Rourke. Originally published in JMIR Formative Research (, 02.09.2021.