What Causes Bipolar Disorder


About 2% of the general population are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Roughly, there are an equal proportion of men and women, usually in their 20s or 30s, but some teenagers are also affected.

Very little is known about the causes of bipolar disorder, although it does run in families, suggesting a genetic link. Some people, however, have no family history of it. During pregnancy, the effects of the mother’s nutrition and mental and physical health on the developing foetus are also seen as important factors.

The fact that symptoms can be controlled by medication, especially lithium and anticonvulsants, suggests that there may be problems with the function of the nerves in the brain, and this is supported by some research. Disturbances in the endocrine system (controlling hormones) may also be involved.

Most research suggests that a stressful environment, social factors, and physical illness may trigger the condition. Stress (in a variety of forms) seems to be the most significant trigger; sleep disturbance being another important contributor.

Stressful life events

Some people can link the start of their bipolar disorder to a period of great stress, such as childbirth, a relationship breakdown, money problems or a career change.

Family background

Some believe bipolar disorder can result from severe emotional damage caused in early life, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Grief, loss, trauma and neglect can all be contributing factors – they all shock the developing mind and produce unbearable stress.

Life problems

It's possible that bipolar disorder could be a reaction to overwhelming problems in everyday life. Mania could be a way of escaping unbearable depression: someone who appears to have a very over-inflated sense of their own importance and their place in society may be compensating for a severe lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.

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Tips & Hints

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