Weighted blanket research is new and quickly evolving. Most of our knowledge comes from piecing together studies that allow us to make sense of weighted blanket benefits. This case study found in an individual that weighted blankets alleviated the anxiety experienced as a symptom of bipolar, and thus became part of her bipolar treatment.
Bipolar is a term that is tossed around frequently whenever someone experiences shifts in mood. Working in the mental health industry has exposed me to the misinformed quite frequently.
I always have clients who present to counseling with self-diagnosed bipolar. Upon further probing, they will explain their symptoms as rapidly shifting emotions.
Contrary to this widely held belief, this is not an accurate picture of bipolar. Also, there are different types of Bipolar: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.
It’s also important to note, however, that there are outliers and someone may be diagnosed with bipolar because it fits most with their symptoms, even if their symptoms do not exactly match what the DSM-5 says. All of this information is important when considering potential bipolar treatment.
Weighted Blanket Research Overview
If you have taken the time to look at the research available on the weighted blanket, you will notice there are themes amongst the available weighted blanket research:
There is an entire 947-page book (DSM-5) that clinicians use to assign an appropriate diagnosis for their clients. There are a lot more mental ailments out there, other than those listed above.
As I was sifting through the weighted blanket research, I came across a case study where deep pressure stimulation was used as a bipolar treatment.
Case studies are a different type of weighted blanket research; they are longitudinal, meaning they follow a single person’s journey for an extended period, not just for an hour or a day.
Spoiler alert, this is not a generalizable study, obviously, because it only tracks one idiosyncratic person. However, I think it’s important to touch on this because
(a) weighted blankets are a newer therapeutic tool, so pretty much all the literature is preliminary and
(b) this study is a great starting point to learn about some implications of weighted blankets as a therapeutic tool for those who are diagnosed with bipolar.
Without further ado, let’s dive into this!
Weighted Blanket Research: Case Study on Bipolar
The person followed was a 30-year old Caucasian female who was diagnosed with Bipolar I in her adolescent years. ADHD, an unspecified anxiety disorder, dyslexia, and endometriosis were assigned as comorbid diagnoses. (Comorbid means a person has two or more chronic diagnoses that co-occur).
The reasoning behind the unspecified anxiety diagnosis was due to the client not being entirely authentic when asked about her symptoms; she would deny any feelings of anxiety.
However, it was apparent to the clinicians that she experienced anxiety during hyperarousal (manic) states, as evidenced by the client’s self-reported symptoms she labeled as “overwhelmed,” but the symptoms she described aligned with an anxiety diagnosis.
- 900mg Lithium ( a mood stabilizer for bipolar) – This is the recommended dosing and is average.
- Dextroamphetamine 10 mg (a stimulant to treat ADHD) – 10mg is a relatively low dose, as the max that can be given is 40mg.
- The client was also on two medications to help treat the endometriosis.
Before beginning the case study, a Global Assessment of Functioning was conducted, which is an assessment to test how well a person functions in society. Her score was 52. This was a baseline measure (or starting score) so that researchers could gauge improvement.
Her score indicated she had moderate difficulty with completing daily activities in social, occupational, or educational settings.
Although medication is helpful with reducing symptoms, it is not a cure-all, and this client still experienced depression bouts, and during these bouts, she reported being ”overstimulated,” which clinicians interpreted as anxiety.
The coping skills developed during the bipolar treatment prior to the client to the start of this research included:
- Squeezing putty
- Having a friend roll her around on the floor
- Using heavy blankets when sleeping
- Pressing foot against the ground to focus on that sensation rather than overstimulation from auditory stimuli around
The coping skills that the client had in place were somewhat useful but lacked greater results that could be achieved with more refined deep pressure stimulation modalities.
As you can see, she was already implementing some types of deep pressure stimulation. Dr. Temple Grandin (a deep pressure stimulation expert) came in to assist with this case study to help refine coping skills and improve the client’s global functioning score.
- Exposure therapy to manage over-stimulating environments
Dr. Grandin recommended the client immerse herself in stressful, but bearable situations, and use her already developed coping skills to bring herself down. A hierarchy was established to determine which circumstances produced the least to most anxiety symptoms.
Coping skills suggested:
- Slightly tinted glasses (with an orange or pink tint)
- Having something to chew on, such as gum
- Listening to certain, calming music
- Stress Ball
- Brushing skin with a particular brush to elicit some skin stimulation
After two months of practicing, the client was able to manage the environmental stressors “better.”
- Managing leftover stress from overstimulating environments.
Although the client did report feeling “better” after the exposure therapy, there was still residual stress that could be treated to further improve the client’s quality of life.
Coping skills the Clinicians recommended:
- Weighted blanket to perform actions she identified as coping skills before the study started. (These are notated above).
Four months into the study, the client needed surgery to manage extreme pain from endometriosis. However, her Global Assessment Functioning Score went up to 62 and peaked at 67 a few months later.
Global Assessment Functioning Score Shifts
After going through the course of treatment with the clinicians, the client was able to get out of bed, feeling well-rested, and therefore be on time to work. Previously she was chronically late. She was able to manage overstimulation symptoms at work better, thus performing her job better.
The change which the client exhibited can be attributed to both the exposure therapy, which helped her develop resilience to the stress in public situations and the development of new coping skills (including deep pressure stimulation using a weighted blanket).
She reported that she still has fluctuations in mood, and experiences occasional bouts of depression, but the anxiety symptoms have attenuated, and she feels more equipped to manage symptoms of the mental ailments.
The cool thing about this study is the mixed-methods approach where there was quantitative (the Global Assessment of Functioning score) and qualitative (self-report) measures to assess the progress of the client!
How This Weighted Blanket Research can Apply to Others
As already mentioned, this information really can’t be generalized to anyone else for multiple reasons:
- There was only one participant.
- Everybody responds to treatments (medication and/or coping skills) differently.
- Mental illness is a spectrum and not a one-size-fits-all, so even though you may have Bipolar I as a primary diagnosis and the same comorbid diagnoses as the client studied here, you may not have the same severity of symptoms.
Why are Case Studies Important to Bipolar Treatment?
I’m so happy you asked this question. I touched on this briefly above, but let me elaborate. All research builds upon itself continuously, but to build upon itself, we need a starting point. This study acted as the starting point, so now more research can be conducted on Bipolar disorders and deep pressure stimulation to build on these findings.
I predict research on weighted blankets specifically will begin booming soon as the trend in the market picks up more and more, which means we will have more research-backed benefits to report back to you!
Read More On This
DSM-5 Criteria: Bipolar Disorders. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.medicaidmentalhealth.org/_assets/file/Guidelines/2017-2018%20Treatment%20of%20Adult%20Bipolar%20Disorder.pdf
Grandin Sylvia, L. (2014). Adjunctive deep touch pressure for comorbid anxiety in bipolar disorder: Mediated by control of sensory input? Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 20(1), 71- 77.