What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

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  • Written By: S. Ashraf
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2018
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Bipolar disorder is a long-term mental health condition that is characterized by wide swings in mood from deep depression through manic behavior. Scientists have not yet developed a complete understanding of the specifics of what causes bipolar disorder. Most experts believe that multiple factors acting together are the underlying causes of this complex disorder. Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by the interactions of genetics, an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain and environmental factors such as stress or abuse.

Generally speaking, medical researchers think that the evidence is overwhelming that bipolar disorder can be inherited. This disorder is seen more frequently in people whose parents or siblings have the condition. In a sense, it runs in families, and it appears that if one family member is bipolar, other family members might be at risk of developing the disorder. Although research has focused on identifying the specific genes involved, bipolar disorder does not come about simply because of a gene or a genetic predisposition. Factors other than genetics must also be present for bipolar disorder to develop.


Another significant component of what causes bipolarity is an existing imbalance among certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain. One neurotransmitter in particular, norepinephrine, is suspected of being central to the development of bipolarity. When levels of norepinephrine are below normal, a person might feel depressed; when levels are too high, mania might happen. Levels of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are also thought to play a part in causing bipolarity.

Even in the absence of a clear genetic history or an imbalance among brain chemicals, bipolar disorder might develop because of environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, a person might be genetically predisposed to this disorder, but it might take a major life event or traumatic experience to trigger the disorder. According to research, the loss of a job, a death in the family, the birth of a child or any of a number of other stressful events can spark the onset of a bipolar episode. Regardless of the reason, after this disorder has been triggered, the course of the disease has started, and biological and psychological processes have been set in motion that will keep the condition progressing.

Although bipolar disorder is a permanent medical condition and is disruptive to daily life, treatment plans are possible. In most cases, moods can be stabilized and controlled with the right medication. Psychological counseling might also be helpful in dealing with bipolarity.



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Post 1

Bipolar runs in the family so I have been told. My mother had it although in the 50's and 60's and she was labeled with everything from manic depressive to schizophrenic, my father would tell her to "snap out of it " and ignore the signs and as a child I would watch helpless as she daily became more terrified, convinced her every move was being watched and recorded until she would have a full blown "breakdown," followed by lengthy stays in institutions with massive shock treatments being administered.

I remember one night being called out of bed by my father to talk to my mother as "he couldn't get any sense into her." She let me into the room and

barricaded the door with a heavy wooden double bed base, I don't know where she found the strength, but she was too far gone to reach with talk and ended up jumping through a plate glass window (luckily she wasn't cut) and running away into the night in her nightgown. This cycle happened over and over again until she was in her sixties and was finally diagnosed as bipolar and put onto lithium. For the first time in her life, she was able to live a normal life and also had the courage to leave my father after years of mental abuse and be a happier person, just so sad that she was misdiagnosed for so many years.

My oldest sister is also bipolar but luckily was treated quite promptly and also lives a relatively normal, if drugged, life. Me, I am so scared of any mental illness that at the first sign of feeling down I get physically active and that seems to work for me. I run 8-10km most days and it really seems to help one to just calm down, relax and feel good again. Unfortunately, my daughter also seems to get very depressed and battles to get out of the dark hole she sometimes finds herself in. She is vegetarian and I also wonder if that plays a part in her depression, maybe lacking B vitamins, etc.? I try to encourage her to force herself to get out, have a change of scenery, go for a walk, scrub a floor, anything to not be a victim to this debilitating illness and it usually helps - it works for me and I should be depressed having had a weird childhood, an abusive marriage to an alcoholic and been physically abused several times, hijacked at gunpoint and just generally having to be the tough cookie throughout life. But you know what? You have to take control of yourself or you end up being a victim. I don't want to be a victim – only a survivor.

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