While researchers don’t yet fully understand the exact cause of bipolar disorder, they have identified certain factors which may increase your risk of developing the disorder.
Family with the Disorder:
If you have a relative in your nuclear family with bipolar disorder, such as a parent or sibling, then you may be at higher risk for the mood disorder. Symptoms may first emerge during teenage years or early adulthood, with the average of onset being 25. One analysis of the literature found that children of parents with a severe mental illness had roughly a one-third chance of developing a severe mental illness by adulthood. Researchers have also found that the earlier age your parent is diagnosed with the disorder, the higher your risk is for also developing it.
However, we know that genetics isn’t the only factor. Studies of identical twins have shown that while bipolar disorder is very heritable, both twins will not always develop the disorder. This means that environmental factors can play a role as well in increasing or decreasing risk of developing the condition.
People who experience traumatic events are at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder. Childhood factors such as sexual or physical abuse, neglect, the death of a parent, or other traumatic events can increase the risk of bipolar disorder later in life. Highly stressful events such as losing a job, moving to a new place, or experiencing a death in the family can also trigger manic or depressive episodes. Lack of sleep can also increase risk of a manic episode.
People who abuse drugs or alcohol are also at risk for developing bipolar disorder. Substance use doesn’t cause the disorder, but it can make mood episodes worse or hasten the onset of symptoms. Sometimes medications can also trigger the onset of a manic or depressive episode. However, because substance use can trigger psychosis, a person may have to detox from substances before a doctor can give them a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder affects men and woman equally, but women are three times more likely to experience rapid cycling of mood episodes. They are also more likely to experience depressive and mixed episodes of the disorder compared to men.