Could I get bipolar disorder?
Yes. 1% to 5% of the Australian population is affected by this condition, with the uncertainty about the exact number affected being the result of controversy about how strictly the condition is diagnosed. About 1 in 10 people with depression will turn out to have bipolar illness, an important issue to realise in proper treatment.
None of us knows what lies dormant within our genetic make-up waiting to come to the surface at the appropriate time in our lives, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or psychiatric illness. Bipolar illness is one of these dormant conditions, waiting to strike after emotional stress or even the physical stress of childbirth.
We know that 20% of Australian women and 10% of Australian men will experience ordinary depression at some stage in their lives. A minority of us, regardless of age, background or intelligence will also develop hypomania or mania, and bipolar illness refers to people who have had both an episode of depression and an episode of mania or hypomania.
Bipolar illness typically can be precipitated by stress, by viruses, by cortisone (steroid) medications and by childbirth. It is now realized that most severe illnesses after childbirth (severe post-natal depression etc.) are in fact bipolar illness triggered off by the hormonal and life changes that take place after childbirth.
Having a relative with bipolar illness, especially a close relative, increases the risk of bipolar illness to about 10%. Phrased differently, a parent with bipolar illness has a 10% chance that his or her child will have the condition, meaning a 90% chance the child will not develop the condition.