I receive so many emails and phone calls from people confused about what causes bipolar disorder. At least once every few weeks, someone contacts me wondering if the bipolar experienced by their loved one or themselves is the result of someone placing a curse on them. Although people who have untreated, unmanaged bipolar disorder may feel cursed, this is NOT a cause of the disorder.


Below are a few of the other things that people may think cause bipolar disorder but, in fact, do not. Some may cause a person that already had bipolar disorder to exhibit symptoms, but these are not causes of the disorder.


Physical, mental, or sexual abuse:  Bipolar disorder is not the result of abuse. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or an anxiety disorder may be the result of abuse but bipolar is not. However, if a person has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, or even if a person has well-managed bipolar disorder, abuse can certainly be a stress-related trigger for an episode.


Too much/too little attention/attention seeking:  If a person receives too much or too little attention, whether as a child or adult, this is NOT a cause of bipolar disorder. The person with bipolar is not using it to seek attention; this is NOT the cause of the disorder.


Stress:  It is often believed that a person that is under stress 'gets' bipolar disorder. Stress is a major trigger for bipolar episodes and symptoms. It is not the CAUSE; it is only a trigger for an existing disorder to come to light.


Drug or alcohol abuse: It is a very common misconception that substance abuse causes bipolar disorder. This is because a person that has bipolar and is also abusing substances can exhibit symptoms and episodes as a result of the mental confusion caused by substance abuse. But the substance abuse is NOT the cause of their bipolar disorder.


Birth Order: It doesn't matter if a person is the eldest child, middle child, youngest child or an only child. If they have bipolar disorder, it has nothing to do with the order in which they were born. In fact, the number of parents in the home or being raised in an orphanage or foster home is not the cause of bipolar either.


Financial Situation: Rich people and poor people as well as middle income people all get bipolar disorder at the same rate. It is not caused by money or the lack of money. Financial stresses can bring on episodes of bipolar or worsen symptoms but the money issues are NOT the cause of the disorder itself.


Hormones or Sex Drive: Many people experiencing a bipolar episode may seek sexual attention or practice risky sexual behavior, blaming it on their hormones. This is NOT a cause of bipolar disorder; instead, it is a symptom of an existing disorder.


Menopause or mid-life crisis: See hormones above. Changes in hormones can worsen symptoms of an existing disorder but do NOT cause the disorder in any way. Fear of the changes occurring due to aging may well trigger symptoms but do not cause them.


Environment:  Often, people believe that being raised by a parent that has bipolar disorder or being around people that have the disorder can cause a person to become bipolar, similar to catching a cold. Environment is never the cause of bipolar. The stress and frustration of being around people that are in the throes of bipolar episodes can well bring on symptoms in a person that already had the disorder, whether diagnosed or not, but the stress does not CAUSE the disorder. Bipolar disorder is not contagious. However, due to the heredity connection, those raised in a home where others have the disorder makes them more likely to also have the disorder but the CAUSE is not the environment at all.


Accident/illness/health problems: Bipolar disorder is not caused by an accident, a long or short illness or the presence of health problems. The stress of having health concerns may bring out symptoms but the cause is not health-related. Being dropped on the head as a baby is not a cause. Having a really awful car accident is not the cause. Being confined to a wheelchair is not a cause of bipolar disorder, either.


Side effect of a medication: Bipolar disorder is not caused by taking a prescribed (or street-obtained) medication. If a person has bipolar symptoms while taking a medication, it could be a reaction. But the medication doesn't CAUSE the bipolar disorder to exist; it may bring out existing signs and symptoms.


While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not clearly understood at this time, there are results of research that indicate the REAL cause of bipolar disorder to be a chemical imbalance in the brain, although some research does indicate a hereditary element to it.