Can Stress Trigger Bipolar Disorder?

Question: Can a series of major stress over a period of 3-4 years cause a person to become bipolar?

— Pat P.
Answer: If one has genetic predisposition, then a series of stressors can turn on the genes and induce depression, hypomania or both (mixed or dysphoric mania). Non-genetic personality factors and availability of social support also play a a significant role. In the absence of genetic predisposition, it takes a lot more stress overload to induce symptoms.
It’s analogous to the situation of high sodium diet and high blood pressure. It’s the combination of genetic predisposition plus high sodium that leads to hypertension, whereas neither alone do it.
For more info, see the blog on Jane Pauley and the overview of Bipolar Disorder.

This article originally appeared in the Q&A section 12/16/2004. Revised 01/21/2006.

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