There are no single definitive causes of bipolar disorder, but research has shown that a complex mix of social, physical and environmental factors can play a part in a person developing the condition. These can be broken down into areas such as genetics, chemical or biological factors and difficult life experiences. There are also certain risk factors which have been identified which can increase the likelihood of Bipolar.
Research into medications to treat and manage Bipolar Disorder has shown that altering the levels of some of the brain’s chemical neurotransmitters can improve symptoms, which has led to the belief that Bipolar could be partly biological in origin. The key neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline responsible for regulating mood are imbalanced in people with Bipolar; during an episode of mania, levels of noradrenaline can be too high whereas during a depressive episode they can be too low. Also, brain imaging studies have shown that people with Bipolar Disorder have different brain structure and functioning when compared to otherwise healthy people, or those suffering from different mental disorders.
Scientists and researchers have shown that Bipolar tends to run in families, but have not found one single gene responsible for causing it. Interestingly, their findings show that if you have family members with Bipolar, you are more likely to develop it yourself although they are unsure why. Current data shows that if a parent has Bipolar then there is a 10-15% greater chance of a child developing it and if both parents have it, this risk then increases to 30-40%. However, there is no explanation as to why some people and not others in the same family go on to develop it. Studies on identical twins have also shown significant genetic risk correlations which revealed that if one twin developed Bipolar, the other had a 40-70% chance of also developing it. The fact that both twins are not automatically guaranteed to have it, despite the fact they both have identical genes shows that a combination of factors are responsible rather than a solely genetic cause.
It’s widely believed that social and environmental triggers can also contribute to a person developing Bipolar Disorder, although it’s still not understood what would cause it to develop in one person and not another. Examples of these can include:
- relationship breakdown
- Emotional or physical abuse as a child
- Trauma or neglect as a child
- Worries about money or work
- The death of someone close
- Sleep problems
There has also been a connection noted between people who have self-esteem issues who then develop Bipolar; some researchers believe that a manic episode is an unconscious way to increase self-esteem, as it results in feelings of euphoria and a loss of inhibitions.
In the debate about the causes of Bipolar Disorder, it’s important to note that it can’t be caused by drugs and alcohol, although using these can produce some of the symptoms as a side effect. For instance, some anti-depressants can cause mania, also both alcohol and street drugs (Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Amphetamines) can cause mania and depression. As many people with mental health issues take anti-depressants or use drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, it can then present problems when trying to identify which symptoms are related to Bipolar and which are medication, drug or alcohol related.
If a person is vulnerable to developing Bipolar symptoms, sometimes even everyday medications and substances such as cold preparations, appetite suppressants or caffeine can trigger mania episodes. Usually, these symptoms will disappear however when they are stopped.
If you have a family history of Bipolar Disorder, it can be useful to be aware of potential triggers such as stress, using stimulants and other factors listed above and monitor any emerging symptoms as Bipolar is now appearing in people at much younger ages. Current research by the National Institute of Mental Health, USA is focused on adolescent groups in high-risk categories in an attempt to predict which young people will go on to develop the condition. Their most recent findings showed that symptoms of mild mania, unstable moods, and anxiety/depression existed many years before Bipolar Disorder developed.
For more information on the symptoms and treatment of Bipolar Disorder, new articles will be coming soon on mental health matters.