Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that affects someone’s mood and behavior. It is often stigmatized in media and pop culture, spreading misinformation for the public to consume. Many are unsure of how someone develops bipolar disorder or even what bipolar disorder is. Lucky for us, researchers are hard at work unlocking the secrets of this mental health disorder and have discovered who may be more likely to develop it.
The answer is that both genetics and environment can cause someone to develop bipolar disorder. This is because both factors influence how our brain grows and functions. That is why when researchers look into mental health disorders, they look at family history as well as how the person lives. Things like a brain injury can also cause someone to develop a mental health disorder.
Bipolar disorder is still being heavily researched, and it may be a long time before we get any concrete answers on why some people develop it and others don’t. Researchers have identified some risk factors that may cause someone to develop bipolar disorder.
The Genetics Behind Bipolar Disorder
Genetics is the study of our genes, how we inherit traits from our family, and how DNA creates us. When we are born, we have a set of DNA. These are building blocks that tell our bodies how to grow and function. Genes are the specific sets of DNA that outline how to make a specific part of our body. We inherit these genes from our parents, and they can determine how a person looks or grows. Some genes are more dominant than others. For example, a person with freckles is more likely to have children with freckles than those that don’t have freckles.
We can also inherit faulty genes, which can cause genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or Duchenne muscular dystrophy. So far, there hasn’t been a singular gene that has been discovered to be responsible for causing bipolar disorder. However, it could be the result of multiple genes being faulty.
Genes may also be responsible for some people having a different brain structure than others. Some researchers have noticed that people with different brain structures may be more likely to develop a mental health disorder. Why this is the case is not well understood, and more research must be done to understand why.
A person is more likely to develop bipolar disorder if someone in the immediate family has it. This includes parents, grandparents, and siblings. It doesn’t mean that someone will certainly develop bipolar disorder. That just means someone should be aware of what bipolar disorder is and what to do if they notice symptoms. A person should not live in fear due to family history. Instead, it’s more productive to educate themselves and stay alert than to be constantly afraid of a possible diagnosis.
Sex might also be linked to bipolar disorder. For example, bipolar II disorder affects a higher population of women than it does men. Cyclothymia and bipolar I disorder, however, affect both men and women equally. Some researchers are looking to see if the X chromosome may have a factor in how people develop bipolar II disorder.
Today researchers believe that genetics play the largest factor in who develops bipolar disorder, but it’s not the only reason why someone may develop it.
How Our Environment May Cause Bipolar Disorder
Our environment shapes us from the moment we are born. The brain learns and grows based on cues we get from our environment. People who live in calm and stable environments are less likely to develop a mental health disorder. However, people can develop a mental health disorder at any time, regardless of how stable their usual environment is. This is because life is unpredictable, and periods of stress, grief, and trauma can greatly impact someone’s mental state.
Someone who constantly deals with stress and stressful situations can develop bipolar disorder. These can be caused by sudden and major life changes, such as losing a job, a death of a loved one, or a physical injury.
These major life changes can cause someone to experience periods of:
- Mania: Long-lasting high levels of mental or physical energy
- Hypomania: Short-term high levels of mental or physical energy
- Depression: Ranging from mild to major
These moods can go up or down, last for short or long periods, and suddenly switch. Each type of bipolar disorder deals with a different combination of mania, hypomania, and depression.
Injury or changes to the brain can also trigger the development of bipolar disorder. This is because our body functions rely on a delicate balance of chemicals in our brains and nervous systems. If those become interrupted or damaged, that greatly impacts the body’s ability to function.
Traumatic brain injury can cause mental health disorders when it changes someone’s brain. Common ways people get a brain injury is through concussions, but high persistent fevers and some illnesses can also cause injury to the brain. Lack of sleep can also change your brain, as well as chemicals introduced through the use of drugs or alcohol.
The changing seasons may also play a role in the development of bipolar disorder. This is because our pineal gland, which secretes the hormone melatonin, is greatly impacted by light and sunshine. Changes in light affect this important gland, which may cause someone to develop symptoms of mania and depression.
How to Help With Research
Researchers need those with bipolar disorder to volunteer their time and experience to help them further our understanding of this disorder.
Check with your local mental healthcare facility, hospital, or university to see if volunteers are needed for a clinical study or trial. You can also check officially run websites, such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to find studies close to you.
By volunteering your time and experience, you help not only yourself but those in the future who may develop bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder affects many people from all walks of life. However, bipolar disorder is not very well understood and heavily stigmatized in society. It’s important to understand that no matter the diagnosis, there will always be people waiting and willing to help you. Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, can off you offer individually tailored treatments for your bipolar disorder. We deeply care about getting you the help you need and helping you on your healing journey. Anyone can achieve recovery with the right tools and support, and that includes yourself. If you or someone you love is struggling with bipolar disorder, call (949) 647-4090. You don’t have to walk this journey alone.