Genetic and Environmental Effects on Bipolar Disorder

Last week I listened to a fascinating free webinar given by the International Bipolar Foundation. The topic was genetic counseling for psychiatric illnesses. It isn’t the same thing as genetic testing, but rather counseling based on genetics. They take into account family histories and life events. Like I said, it was fascinating.

But the most important thing I learned was that you can’t blame your mental illness entirely on your genes. It takes life events and stressors to create mental illness too. The speaker gave this analogy that really stuck with me: Imagine two jars. One jar is filled over half full. This represents your genetic predisposition for a mental illness. Then you fill the rest of the jar up with life experiences and stressors and the jar overflows and you show signs of a mental illness. Now take another jar and fill it a quarter full with genes linked to mental illness. You will need a lot more life experiences and stressors to make that one overflow, right? That is why we can’t just point to genes when we talk about mental illness and why we can’t predict who will be mentally ill because you can’t account for those life experiences that will affect one’s mental health.

I also found this topic important in regards to the mentally ill having children. Just because I am bipolar does not mean my child will be. Yes, there is a higher percentage that she will be, but that’s just what she starts off with in her jar. We don’t, we can’t know what will happen in her life that would fill up the jar and make it overflow into a mental illness.

I don’t want to talk too much about parenting in this blog, but promise to get into it in another. I just wanted to bring up the whole jar analogy and hope it made some sense to you, that you understand that it is BOTH genes and environmental factors that contribute to bipolar disorder.

Check out other cool, free webinars given by the International Bipolar Foundation here. 




And they are apparently too stupid to realize how easy it is to ensure they are called out for their bad behavior.



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    Last reviewed: 7 Dec 2013