Understanding the Genetic Component to Bipolar Disorder

This entry was posted in Mental Health on January 20, 2015 and modified on April 30, 2019

Understanding the Genetic Component to Bipolar Disorder Many mental health disorders result from a combination of factors, including family history, environment and personality. A new study says that if you think you have bipolar disorder because someone else in your family had it, then you tend to do a better job coping with the illness.

The study by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute involved 266 patients with diagnosed bipolar disorder. Each patient had to have at least one child younger than age 30 without bipolar. The study participants completed a survey which was able to determine how well each was coping with, or adapting, to their bipolar disorder. The subjects were overwhelmingly female (83.7 percent) and mostly white (68 percent). According to the authors of the study, bipolar disorder patients who saw their condition as a result of genetics found it much easier to adapt to the illness.

The participants revealed an average score of 2.6 as measured by the Psychological Adaptation Scale. This score reflects a moderate amount of adaptation to the illness. There was a 55.2 percent differential between those with strong adaptation and those with less strong adaptation.

Those with stronger adaptation made use of social supports, had an optimistic outlook and employed active coping. Patients who were doing well were more optimistic and saw genetics as the cause of their condition, rather than ruminating on possible environmental factors or personal attributes which might have brought about their condition. Less robust adaptation was linked to denial coping and self-blame.

Bipolar disorder was once referred to as manic depression. Emotions shift from one polar extreme to the other, hence the name bipolar. At one time the person with bipolar may feel exhilarated, energetic and have somewhat grand illusions about their own ability. At other times, the person will feel despondent, unmotivated and sad. In between are periods where the person experiences “normal” mood. Whereas a healthy person may experience an emotion for several hours or a day, the bipolar person will have episodes of mood which stretch out for weeks or even months.

The depressive side of the disorder tends to show up first and cause problems. This is how people usually discover that they have bipolar. This study suggests that when people are first learning about their illness it’s important for them to realize how much genetics has to do with their condition. This can rescue them from a great deal of self-blame that does not help them in coping with their illness.

Patients who do come to this realization quickly see that their children are also at increased risk for the illness. By offering bipolar disorder patients genetic counseling, health professionals may be able to provide a positive trajectory for the patient’s ability to cope and adapt, both for themselves and the sake of their children.

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