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Let’s Talk About Bipolar Disorder & If It’s Genetic

Before we get into the main topic at hand, let’s first learn a little bit about Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme highs – known as mania – and extreme lows – known as bipolar depression. There are different types of Bipolar Disorder but the main two are labeled as Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2.

Bipolar 1 tends to be the more severe form of this disorder since people who are diagnosed with it tend to get into full blown manic episodes. The length and severity of the episode can be different every time. For some people who rapid cycle, mania may only last a few days to maybe a week. But for some, the episodes can last a month and, in some cases, even longer. For people with Bipolar 2, they can get into episodes called hypomania that aren’t as severe as full-blown mania.

People with Bipolar Disorder tend to have their moods and bipolar episodes cycle. As an example; someone could be manic, then fall into a depression, then return to their baseline before cycling back into mania. Baseline is when the person is feeling like their usual self without feeling high or low.

Some symptoms of mania can include, but are not limited to, feeling much more energetic than usual and that can sometimes be accompanied by feelings of euphoria and hallucinations; felling like they are on top of the world and can do anything. Excessive spending, rapid speech, hypersexuality, poor judgement, taking risks, decreased need for sleep, easily distracted, and even increased irritability and agitation can all be symptoms of mania.

The depression end of things can get challenging for people with Bipolar Disorder. Some symptoms of depression are, but are not limited to; difficulty falling and staying asleep or sleeping too much, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, isolation, decreased or increased appetite, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, not being able to find joy in things that once made them happy, fatigue and loss of energy, and feelings of worthlessness.

Some people with Bipolar Disorder can also experience something known as a mixed episode. A mixed episode is when the person has both symptoms of mania and depression at the same time. Mixed episodes can be frustrating and hard to deal with. You really don’t know how to feel. Sadly, the suicide rate is higher for people who are in mixed episodes.

Now that you have gained a little insight into what Bipolar Disorder is, it’s time to answer the real question. Does Bipolar Disorder run in families? Is it genetic? And what are the causes?

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Unfortunately, science hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly how or why people end up with this devastating, life-long mental health disorder. But experts do believe that there are several factors that come into play when it comes to Bipolar Disorder. There are three main key factors that could be the culprit for this disorder; genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry.

It is also believed that when people have other mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD that they have a higher likelihood of developing bipolar disorder.  

People who have an immediate family member such as a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who also use or abuse drugs and alcohol, and who have undergone significant periods of high stress appear to have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder compared to someone who doesn’t have any immediate family members with this disorder and that abstains from drugs and alcohol.

If you were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, you should know that it is nothing that you did that caused it. You are not at fault, so never blame yourself. You were brought into this world with this disorder and it can sometimes be a waiting game for when symptoms will start to come to the surface.

If someone is bipolar, symptoms can emerge at any age but is more common in the teen years and early 20s. Sometimes major events that can severely impact your mental health can trigger the disorder and cause it to rear its ugly head if you have risk factors for this disorder and it’s in your genes. There have even been cases where bipolar disorder surfaced after women gave birth. After all, pregnancy can change your brain chemistry and is very traumatic on the body.

Genetics Appear to Play A Role

Bipolar disorder does appear to run in families, which is a major reason some researchers do believe that genetics can play a role in who develops bipolar disorder.  In fact, if one parent has a bipolar diagnosis then their child’s risk of developing the disorder increases by 10 to 15 percent. If both parents have bipolar disorder, those numbers increase even further to about 30 to 40 percent. As a matter of fact, when twins are involved and one twin gets a bipolar diagnosis, the other twin has a 40 to 70 perfect chance of sharing that same diagnosis!

That means that f you were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, there is a good chance that someone else in your bloodline may also be bipolar. There is also the chance that someone in your family may also be experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder but are left untreated and undiagnosed.

Are Bipolar Symptoms the Same for Everyone?

Something you should know about bipolar disorder is that everyone can experience symptoms differently. The symptoms are unique to the individual. One person might experience euphoria during a manic episode while someone else might feel highly agitated. A lot of the typical signs and symptoms that are listed above can be felt in different ways for different people.

Although, most people with Bipolar Disorder are able to relate to each other fairly well and can understand what someone else with the same diagnosis is going through.

One thing that doesn’t often come up when you search for information on this disorder is that people who are bipolar tend to be highly creative and even artistic. They tend to be able to think outside the box when it comes to their creative abilities. Some people with this disorder sometimes claim that they hate taking their meds because it interferes with their creativity and deadens it.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder. Once you have it, you have it for life. But there are ways to help manage the disorder and the symptoms. Many people with Bipolar Disorder need to take psych medications such as mood stabilizers in order to keep their symptoms under control. But finding the right med combination is often very challenging, tiring, and frustrating. For some people it could take years before they find something that really helps them. There are some people who get lucky and are prescribed the right medication on the first try. What medications work well for one person might have adverse reactions on someone else.

People with bipolar disorder usually have to see a psychiatrist in order to be prescribed medications. This isn’t something that most primary care physicians deal with.

It is also recommended that people with Bipolar Disorder see a therapist as well. A therapist can help you gain some control over your symptoms as well as teach you useful coping skills.

It is also a good idea to find other people with the same disorder as you to connect with.It feels good when you find someone who understands what you are going through. Perhaps, give some online mental health support groups a try through platforms such as Facebook. A good mental health support group to try would be the My Bipolar Mind Support Group on Facebook!

Samantha View All

Samantha is the author of "My Bipolar Mind: You're not alone," she is also a freelance writer, blogger, and mental health advocate who runs and manages her own mental health blog

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