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Explains what bipolar disorder is, what kinds of treatment are available, and how you can help yourself cope. Also provides guidance on what friends and family can do to help.
No one knows exactly what causes bipolar disorder. Researchers suggest that a combination of different factors, including physical, environmental and social, increase your chance of developing the condition.
On this page you can find information on:
Some experts believe that experiencing a lot of emotional distress as a child can cause you to develop bipolar disorder. This can include experiences like:
This could be because experiencing trauma and distress as a child can have a big effect on your ability to regulate your emotions.
You may be able to link the start of your symptoms to a very stressful period in your life, such as:
Although lower levels of stress are unlikely to cause bipolar disorder, for some people they can trigger an episode of mania or depression.
(See our pages on managing stress for more information on the links between stress and mental health).
Evidence shows that bipolar symptoms can be treated with certain psychiatric medications, which are known to act on the neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals) in your brain.
This suggests that bipolar disorder may be related to problems with the function of these neurotransmitters – and this is supported by some research. However, no one knows for certain exactly how these neurotransmitters work and whether problems with these are a cause or a result of bipolar disorder.
If you experience bipolar disorder, you are more likely to have a family member who also experiences bipolar moods and symptoms (though they might not have a diagnosis). This suggests that bipolar disorder might be passed on through families.
However, this does not necessarily mean that there is a 'bipolar gene' – family links are likely to be much more complex. For example, researchers think that environmental factors can also be triggers for experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. And for most people, family members are an influential part of your environment as you grow up.
This information was published in May 2018. We will revise it in 2021.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.