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What Causes Bipolar? 7 Fascinating Factors You Should Know!

Woman standing behind red transparent foil

Bipolar Disorder is one of the most recognisable mental illness behind anxiety and depression. It is a mood disorder that presents with extremes of elation and/or mania and depressive episodes. In this blog we are going to explain the different factors that come into play when a person is at risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Here are 7 fascinating factors you need to know…

The brain is the most complex and least understood organ in the body. Bipolar disorders are caused by differences in how a person's brain and nervous system regulate basic behaviours.

Circadian rhythms

Are the systems which governs our ability to maintain sleep patterns and eating habits. People with bipolar disorders appear to have more difficulty in regulating this system, with the levels of serotonin (the happy hormone) apparently being adversely affected by this.

Genetic Differences

Bipolar disorder runs in families as several studies have clearly shown the link between having a relative with bipolar disorder and higher risk of developing it yourself.

Brain Differences

Neurologist looking at images of EEG brain scans

Although they cannot be used to diagnose bipolar disorders just yet, brain scans can show where abnormal activity is occurring, or whether the brain is structured differently than usual.

Neurotransmitters: The brain's telephone system

Old fashioned telephones

Neurons are the brain's internal communication centre, but they do not trade messages directly. They have gaps in them that electrical impulses have to make the leap from and there are chemicals that help them do so. Along with the hormone melatonin, several neurotransmitters appear to be involved in bipolar disorders, including:

Serotonin. Which controls sleep, mood, some types of sensory perception, body-temperature regulation, and appetite. It affects the rate at which hormones are released.

Dopamine. This neurotransmitter helps control body movements and thought patterns and regulates how hormones are released.

Norepinephrine. Governs arousal, the "fight or flight" response, anxiety, and memory.

These neurotransmitters can be affected by certain medications which change how much of certain hormones and neurotransmitters are produced, or how these chemicals are absorbed in the brain. Which can help improve behaviour and mood stability in people who have bipolar. These medicines do not cure the underlying disorder, but they can certainly help quite a lot. It is a bit like taking the hormone insulin for diabetes: you are still a diabetic, and you still must watch your diet, but the insulin injections help you control the illness and prevent its most debilitating effects.

Physical activity, exercise, diet, vitamins, and herbal supplements can also affect these neurotransmitters.

There is even some evidence that positive or negative life experiences, including talk therapy and treatments such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), can help make actual neurological change over a longer time period. Therapy is extremely helpful for learning to handle the negative aspects that can occur with these disorders, which include embarrassing public behaviour to difficulties in personal relationships.

Electrical miswiring

Electrical wire box being tested

Uncontrolled surges of electricity in the brain are called seizures. Seizure disorders (epilepsy) are somewhat more common in people with bipolar disorders. This is a clue that abnormal electrical activity may sometimes be involved in causing mood swings or may happen as a result of mood swings.

Some doctors believe that the inexplicable temper tantrums and rages characteristic of children and some adults with bipolar disorders may be related to seizures occurring deep within the brain. Others suspect that an electrical "blip" in brain activity that can be caused by environmental triggers may be at fault. This cannot be entirely confirmed though as EEG brain scans are not sensitive enough yet to pick up all types of seizures in all parts of the brain.

Immune-system impairment

This one is not a totally conventional idea, but some scientists theorize that bipolar disorders may include an immune system problem. There is a certain extent of good sense to this idea, since the immune system is tightly bound to the endocrine (hormonal) system. In addition, people with known immune disorders, such as lupus, often experience mood swings.

Interestingly, lithium, which is the most popular medication for bipolar disorders, also seems to have some antiviral effects. There has not been enough research done on this theory yet, but for at least some patients, immune-system problems could be a cause or a side effect of bipolar disorder.

Other factors in bipolar disorders

Gender tends to have an influence in factors affecting diagnosis of mental health disorders overall. With woman having more chance of being diagnoses with depressive disorders in general, although childhood bipolar has seen less disparity between genders prevalence. There is some evidence that childhood bipolar disorder is diagnosed more commonly among males and other studies have found more diagnoses of adolescent bipolar disorder among females.

Culture has an impact too. The bias and stress experienced by women and girls in a sexist culture can produce emotional problems, and normal behaviour for a particular girl or woman can be "pathologized" when seen through certain cultural lenses. A female with a tempestuous, artistic, assertive, even aggressive temperament might be called mentally ill in a culture that does not value these attributes in females. Girls and women may also seek medical help more often than males with similar symptoms.

Males can also be affected by gender bias. A man or boy with undiagnosed bipolar disorder may come to the attention of the criminal justice system before he sees a mental health professional. He may find himself with a criminal record rather than a treatment plan, simply because moody, unpredictable, aggressive behaviour in males is generally seen as a personal problem, not a medical one.

Children lying on library floor reading

There are other factors at play such as race, ethnicity, religion and economic status and these have been found to play a huge role when studying cases of bipolar disorder in psychology.

Bipolar is a complicated disorder with many factors that interconnect, making research vital for our understanding and ability to help people who live with this disorder.

This blog used the source: Bipolar Disorders: A Guide to Helping Children and Adolescents by Mitzi Walsh, copyright 2000 by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.

Lesley-Ann Clubb

Founder of Lamentally Sound CIC

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational and entertainment purposes only; in no way does this constitute medical advice. Please speak to a doctor or registered practitioner if you are concerned.


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