Bipolar Is But A Symptom of Childhood Abuse

November 12, 2013 Natasha Tracy

It’s time to dispel another myth that ticks me right off. This particular myth is that mental illness is but a symptom of childhood abuse. People who think this claim that simply by getting therapy and dealing with this abuse, the mental illness symptoms will go away. Bipolar – cured! Yay!

This, of course, is absolute nonsense.

Denying Childhood Abuse

Now, the first thing someone on Twitter said to me when I asserted the ridiculousness of this notion was that I was “in denial.” Yeah. Sure. Because I’m sure I don’t know what happened to me in my childhood. Because I’m sure that I don’t know what I have dealt with. Because I wasn’t there in the years of therapy that I’ve had.

Saying that I’m “in denial” is easy, because you can’t prove a negative. It’s impossible to prove that I’m not just “in denial.” I would suggest, however, that it’s impossible to believe that the entire population of people with a mental illness is somehow “in denial.”

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is not a symptom of childhood abuse and just because you have bipolar doesn't mean you have been abused. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.There are many risk factors for bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses but the biggest risk factor for bipolar disorder is likely genetics. I would say it’s far more relevant that my father had bipolar disorder than whatever (not particularly abusive) childhood I might have had. If you have a parent with bipolar disorder you have a 50% chance of having a serious mental illness and identical twin studies demonstrate a 33-90% concordance for bipolar I. Even adopted children raised in households without mentally ill parents show an increased risk of bipolar disorder when their biological parent has bipolar I or a depressive disorder. (Source for statistics.)

Of course, this indicates that there is more than biology at work in bipolar disorder.

And we knew that. It’s true that life traumas can increase your risk of having bipolar disorder but to say that bipolar disorder (or another mental illness) is just a “symptom of childhood abuse” is ludicrous.

(There are a few exceptions to this like dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder which are specifically precipitated on life stressors.)

Childhood Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

And let’s be clear here: not everyone who has bipolar disorder has experienced childhood abuse. Some have and some haven’t. Bipolar disorder doesn’t discriminate. And suggesting that we all have experienced childhood abuse whether we admit to it or not is ridiculous. The bipolar population is huge and certainly not everyone in it has been abused no matter how you run the numbers.

So let us dispense with this myth once and for all. Bipolar disorder is not a symptom of childhood abuse. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder, just like epilepsy, and no one would dream of telling epileptics that their seizures are because of childhood abuse and we deserve that same courtesy.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, November 12). Bipolar Is But A Symptom of Childhood Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

July, 8 2018 at 9:10 am

Thanks for raising a huge issue for people with BD - what caused this? A complicated question. My read of the literature is that childhood abuse can be a cause or a factor in causing BD - not that BD is itself a symptom of abuse. So, it may be that, some of us are genetically predisposed to BD and then, with that predisposition, we are exposed to childhood abuse and it "sets off" or "triggers" our BD whereas someone without genetic predisposition exposed to the same abuse does not develop BD. A related issue: where did BD come from in the first place? BD is described as a "disorder" or an "illness," but is it? Could it be that BD was useful to our distant, northern ancestors living in frigid environments? (Sources estimate the discovery of fire was about 800,000 years ago - imagine the basic survival struggles of our ancestors who lived in northern climates prior to fire). They faced long, bitter cold winters and brief summers. Perhaps BD evolved as a response to that environment. Faced with several months of deep freeze, it may have helped survival prospects to lay low in a quasi "depressive" phase (recall how other mammal species hibernate) - and then, when that short summer finally arrived, a burst of energy (mania) could help with gathering food, mating, etc. So, for our distant relatives, it may have been that the "trauma" of being exposed to extreme climates activated a type of evolved survival mechanism that we now know and hate as BD - but it was useful for them. And, it may be, that other types of trauma - like child abuse - similarly act as "triggers" to set the BD mechanism in motion. Who knows?! One day at a time with BD; good luck!!

March, 26 2018 at 6:09 am

From experience, I had a predisposition to bipolar- my grandfather and older brother and mother had mild forms (bipolar2)of it-and I believe a traumatic event in early adolescence caused my bipolar to rare it's ugly head. So, in my case I believe it was a combination of genetics and environment. I have a twin brother who has the same genes as me but does not have bipolar, but then again he has never experienced anything particularly traumatic in his life that could possibly bring it out.

March, 10 2018 at 3:57 pm

I do not take opinions on any scientific matter without sources and told from a first person perspective UNLESS it is backed up by SCHOLARLY sources. I agree with the nature and nurture perspective. Where, oftentimes, mental illness can be attributed to abuse and if genetics play their role, that's a person without tools to handle their mental illness.

September, 12 2017 at 3:28 pm

Seems that my grandmother had BP or borderline PD. My father was emotionally abusive. I have BP II. My life has been very difficult, unsuccessful and unhappy. I don't take drugs or drink, but am depressed often and am ashamed of my life.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
September, 12 2017 at 3:38 pm

Hi Katie,
I'm sorry to hear that. Please know that depression does change and if you do feel ashamed of your life, it's probably the depression rearing its ugly head -- it's not really you. I hope you are getting the help you need to feel better.
There are lots of hotlines and resources listed here:…
And remember, you don't have to be suicidal to call.
Reach out. You can turn this around.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 14 2018 at 9:05 pm

I'm 41 married with 2 children and I have bp2. My entire life has been hell. Abused sexually for 8 years from age 4. My family ignored me and I was forced to continue living with that relative. To this day they refuse to acknowledge what they allowed. I'm so ashamed of my life. Completely humiliated when others notice the mood swings. I don't keep jobs very long because of the deep depression. I'm angry most of the time. I asked my husband to put me in a hospital, take the kids and divorce me. I am losing mmy battle.

September, 4 2017 at 7:03 pm

Despite this unfortunate sufferer's angry perspective, which to its credit does address other points of view, but is still largely anecdotal, there scientific literature on this which does present a link between Bi Polar and childhood abuse, albeit largely related to emotional abuse.
"Our results show the importance of childhood trauma, not only as a risk factor for bipolar disorders per se but also for a more severe clinical and dimensional profile of expression of the disorder," author Monica Aas, PhD, from the University of Oslo, in Norway, told Medscape Medical News.
I would infer from this that yes genetics play a huge role, but the severity of a condition can be made a lot worse if you have a messed up childhood. Like most things in life, it isnt nature OR nurture, but a combination of both

August, 19 2017 at 2:49 pm

My mother had bipolar disorder as did my brother. I do not. My mother was very abusive as was my brother. Fortunately, I was raised by a wonderful foster family. However, when I had children, one ended up having bipolar disorder. She behaves just like my biomother and biobrother. Sadly, as an adult, she went to a therapist who told her bipolar disorder is caused by child abuse and if she could just recover her missing memories of get the idea. I loved her. But after that, she sunk in to drugs and we have not seen her since. I am devastated that any professional would say such a thing. My daughter was under the care of a physician and a psychiatrist at the time, but none of us knew what the new therapist was telling her until it was too late.

October, 16 2016 at 5:27 am

Whenever I read a post like this, I feel an element of concern. Often, such posts are merely the opinion of people who have no formal medical, or social care training whatsoever. Whilst we are all entitled to an opinion, it MUST be accepted that sometimes opinions can be wrong. Also, that opinions can differ; more than one opinion may sometimes be correct.
Mental illness and its diagnosis is a tricky field. Symptoms and diagnosis are often somewhat of a "chicken and egg" scenario, in which we rarely seem to know whether visible symptoms preceded a diagnosis, or whether what we see now is a result of something like medication side-effects, or are symptoms completely unrelated to a diagnosis. Furthermore, to find what "triggered" a mental illness can be especially hard; people's lives are all different, and for this reason alone, no two people will have had the same life experiences even if they have the same diagnosis of mental illness.
Personally - and this is just personal opinion, so may be wrong or may be right - I feel that we still know very little about the workings of the human brain. Although humans have made big advances in terms of medicine and science, there remain things about which we are uncertain, or about which we do not yet have full information. Mental illness is one of these fields. The "nature versus nurture" debate rages strongly, and to date our society remains unclear as to the definitive causes of many mental illnesses. Does mental illness occur due to genetics, or due to upbringing? What if it is a mixture of the two?
Added to this, diagnostic tools such as the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical manual), and ICD (another tool used to diagnose mental illness) are both confusing and contradictory. recently, the DSM in particular has come under heavy criticism because it is so confusing and unhelpful. Both manuals list mental illnesses under various headings (i.e. the diagnosis, or name of the illness), and then list symptoms, of which a patient must have a certain number to classify as "having the illness". This might seem all well and good, but there is a HUGE problem. If, as I have done, you actually read these manuals, and work with them in a professional capacity, then you will come to see that symptoms of one illness can exactly mirror those of another. Put simply, there is a LOT of overlap of symptoms from one mental illness to another. Because no two patients are alike in respect both of their overall presentation, and past life history, this confusing symptom overlap in the diagnostic manuals makes them hard to use. It also makes definitive diagnosis near impossible. Instead, what so often occurs within Mental Health Services is that a patient gets labelled with a diagnosis dependent upon what illness the medical professional who they consult with thinks best fits their symptoms. This means that patients who, over the course of time, see more than one medical professional may end up with varying diagnoses. To exemplify (hypothetical case used)...
Joe Bloggs goes to his G.P. and explains that he has been feeling "jittery", stressed and has been worrying a lot recently. The G.P. talks to Joe about his symptoms, and Joe states that they are mainly panic, worrying a lot, inability to relax, inability to sleep, and feeling stressed. The G.P. believes that Joe Bloggs has an ANXIETY DISORDER.
Later, Joe is referred to a Psychiatrist, who talks in more detail with Joe about the nature of the symptoms, and about their duration. Joe Bloggs states that the symptoms have persisted for a few months now, adding that he feels very restless at times, and cannot stop worrying that something bad is going to happen. Joe explains to the Psychiatrist that he went through a really bad time a few months back, and that since then, he has been afraid that something is out to hurt him. He has a terrible fear of injury or illness. The Psychiatrist agrees that Joe may have an ANXIETY DISORDER, but equally feels that Joe is likely to suffer from an OBSESSIONAL DISORDER.
Finally, Joe goes to have therapy from a Counsellor. The Counsellor is easy to talk to and Joe opens up fully about the bad time he went through. He tells the Counsellor that five months ago, he was driving home from work when he fell asleep, and narrowly missed crashing his car into a lamp post. Joe explains to the Counsellor that he did not know he had fallen asleep at the wheel until he felt his car mount the pavement, and he was jolted awake to find he had narrowly missed a lamp post. Sine this incident, Joe has been afraid to drive, and gets sweaty and shaky whenever he goes near the scene of his accident. He has nightmares about it, especially because the whole incident was really humiliating as the Police had to be involved. The Counsellor, after considering Joe's words, feels he qualifies for a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The above shows just how easy it may be for three different medical professionals to give three different diagnoses of mental illness to the same person, simply because they interpret symptoms differently, or because the patient tells them slightly different things. We should note that when a person attends numerous medical appointments, they do not always say exactly the same thing each time, because they may forget some information, or else recall new information. Even when medical professionals have a patient's notes, they may still reach different conclusions as to diagnosis, due to individual interpretation and difference of opinion. In cases where there may be symptom overlap between different mental illnesses, different professionals may attribute symptoms to different causes.
For example (taken from the DSM 5)...
* Symptoms of DEPRESSION can include insomnia, irritability, restlessness, feeling worthless, inability to enjoy usual activities, fatigue, decreased energy, feeling pessimistic or hopeless, difficulty concentrating, persistently feeling sad.
* Symptoms of ANXIETY can include restlessness, a feeling of dread, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, irritability, worry.
So, if a person sees a Doctor because they have symptoms of insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, feeling dread, feeling worthless... are they depressed, anxious, or both? WHAT is the correct diagnosis (if any)?
The above are very simplified examples, but I have met with numerous mental health patients who have had, over the course of time, innumerable changes of diagnosis because each new medical professional they saw felt differently about symptoms and diagnosis. There are many mental illnesses in the DSM and ICD that have symptoms which overlap. People with Bi Polar, for instance, can be misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia (and vice-versa) because of symptom similarities. People with Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive Disorders and Post Traumatic Stress may easily be confused because of symptom overlap between the various illnesses. The longer a person is treated by Mental Health Services, the greater the likelihood that variation in diagnosis may occur. This is partly because the longer they are treated, the more changes of medic they may have; partly because medication itself can mask, or alter, visible symptoms making it appear that a previous diagnosis was incorrect and that a new one is warranted.
With all the above problems, then it makes sense to me that people should stay clear of jumping to any conclusions when it comes to mental illness. This applies equally when it comes to deciding what may cause an illness. Added to this is the fact that ALL humans are different, so no two people who have a mental illness will have lived the same lives. This makes it particularly hard to pinpoint exact causes, because everyone's experience will be different.
For the above reasons, I say that it is utterly wrong to suggest that Bi Polar definitely IS caused by child abuse; it is equally wrong to say that it definitely IS NOT. The truth is closer to a murky middle-ground. SOME people who have Bi Polar may have it due to genetics, OTHERS due to upbringing, and yet OTHERS due to a mix of both. Please note that I say MAY have it due to... because NOBODY can say for certain. Even when people do have Bi Polar, their lives are still all very different - so no two people with Bi Polar could claim to have had exactly the same circumstances, thus making it hard to say just what circumstances lead to having Bi Polar. Research into causes is ongoing, and for every piece of research that cites nature (i.e. biology and genetics) as a cause, there is another that cites nurture (i.e. upbringing).
What complicates the above "nature versus nurture" debate is just what I have pointed out to you as the problems with diagnosing mental illness. Because the DSM and ICD are so confusing due to symptom overlap, the sad fact is that we can NEVER know for certain whether any person's diagnosis is accurate, anyway. At the end of the day, it is as much about guesswork, supposition and medical opinion, as it is about definitive facts - perhaps more so! If one Doctor can hear about a person's symptoms and say "Schizophrenia", but another hear the same symptoms and say "Bi Polar", then just how accurate and reliable is this whole diagnosis thing, anyway? And... if it's NOT reliable, then just where does that leave all THIS debate about causes? Erm... Back at proverbial "square one"!
My personal opinion concurs pretty much with that of Rachel (above) who says that it is ridiculous to insist that each and every person experiences the exact same causality. Well said Rachel! Remember, ALL people are different and ALL people's lives are different. Perhaps the reality is that some people experience what appear to us to be mental illnesses due to some genetic dysfunction that affects how the brain develops. Others may have experienced damage to the brain - perhaps due to birth difficulties (difficult delivery causing oxygen restriction, or similar), or due to head trauma later in life - that mimics mental illness. Yet others may have symptoms of what seems to be mental illness as a result of protracted alcohol or drug misuse. Some may have symptoms akin to mental illness that result from emotional damage caused by child abuse, bullying, domestic violence or some other equally damaging treatment at the hands of other people. Yet others may have symptoms appearing like mental illness that result from witnessing traumatic occurrences like a car crash, or bereavement, or being caught in a natural disaster. Some may have a combination of several of these factors. It may even be that the diagnosis of mental illness that takes place at present, using things like the DSM and ICD, turns out to be flawed and inaccurate - and that we have to find a new way of more accurately diagnosing and defining mental illnesses. Perhaps our current view of mental illness will turn out to be flawed, and we may in the future have to find new ways of looking at symptoms, and new ways of redefining what is going on for people with such symptoms? Maybe a more person-centred approach, which actually does start to focus upon INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES, as opposed to GENERIC LABELS AND DIAGNOSES, is the way forward? Who can yet say?
Topics like mental illness are difficult and fraught with problems, in that they are not necessarily so easy to define. Unlike many physical illnesses and injuries, we cannot easily SEE mental illness, or its cause(s). Thus, there is no simple way to reach a definitive consensus as to what mental illness actually looks like - what it represents, what it is, what it does, and what causes it. Each and every one of us may well have a different view, and there is little to say if our views are wrong or right. Unlike a stubbed toe - which can be seen, and the cause of which is known - mental illness cannot be simply and clearly defined. Which is perhaps why posts like these spark such intense debate? Food for thought!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 4 2017 at 7:07 pm

It does frustrate me that such opinion blog posts are presented as authoritative especially in this day and age, where truth, data and facts are harder to find than a healthy snack in a convenience store

May, 3 2016 at 4:35 pm

A couple of things... First of all, it is RIDICULOUS to insist that each and every person with ANY disease is experiencing the exact same causality. There are often mitigating factors. this being said, as a person with genetic predisposition on both sides of the family, narcissistic parents, bipolar ii and a history of child abuse, I have to say that I DO believe that my own pain is caused primarily by psychological factors which have been driven deep into my subconscious. Why do I say this? Because I have a very intense meditation practice and it unleashes the subconscious... Over a period of about ten years my body has been popping and cracking (called kriyas) and with these muscle contractions comes INTENSE emotional and psychological release. The memories are stored in tissues, and have not yet been processed by the brain. This "subconscious" is what has created a lot of the spiraling moods, as my body has done its best to attempt to avoid the pain and thereby erase it's memory. (It can't avoid the pain that is actually there, so this is a tough one...) you would be amaZed at how efficient the brain can be at prioritizing. I would not be surprised if in another 50 years they have discovered the links between psychosomatic stress and "mental" illness. there is so much we still don't know about the mind body connection.

December, 24 2014 at 1:36 am

I'd say that the reason psy docs are "obsessed" with trauma is that that's their job.. You go to an eye doc and he will look for eye stuff, you know?
The psychiatric profession has no effective psychiatric treatment for non-trauma-based psychiatric disorders. Your general physician can prescribe the ineffective garbage drugs for you, then you take them and your lofe improves by 12.7% or so... And then during therapy, your therapist's job is to try to find something to treat with councelling.. If you have no underlying trauma, the councelling will boil down to this: "Tough luck, dude. Learn to deal." That is all they can offer if you have no trauma. Chems and harsh truths.
Took me 35 years to find out I'd been abused. I hadanswered flat out no to the question for years when asked in therapy. Came to the conclusion myself after not having any therapy for about a decade. Makes perfect sense that they keep probing you about it.. Because therapists kinda know that people have been abused, because abused people tell stories that seem normal to them (my mom got really angry during the weekends. Turns out, moms threatening their kids with child protective services, constant guilting, constant belittlement of opposing opinions, and aura of lies and inconstencies... You get so unsure of things that you're essentially brainwashed... This happens A LOT, and I can 100% guarantee that a lot of commenters who claim not to have been abused have.. Like Hannity on fox recently, claiming that a fist to the face and belt lashings given to him by his father wasn't abuse.
I thought the same. A year ago I wuld have laughed at the idea of having been abused.
Do yourselves a favor, even if you're not arund a narcissist (that you know of), spend some time reading about them. They can have an absolutely incredibly strong influence on emotional people like those with mood disorders. Always be on the lookout for these monsters. They will leech you dry.

November, 11 2014 at 4:16 pm

I was adopted at birth but I do know my biological mother suffered from a mental ilness. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder so there is obviously a genetic link there with mental illness. It makes sense half my genes come from her. But I do believe environmental stresses like PTSD from being abused as a child (which left me unable to deal with stressful situations for a long time in a healthy way) in part has exacerbated the progressive spectrum of untreated bipolar disorder in much the same way that stress can increase blood pressure or wreak havoc with one's blood sugar. Although one is not usually born with high blood pressure... It's a well known fact that long term stress CAN affect brain chemistry. (In my latter years I have found that yoga and meditation are extremely helpful in reducing my symptoms because they help reduce stress). Also other things like environmental toxins, i.e. mercury in fish (versus the omegas in fish) or even a loss of oxygen can severely affect the brain. I was suffocated with a pillow when I was a baby by a mentally retarded foster child we had living with us at the time and I nearly died (I had already started to turn blue before I was revived)
What really bothers me though is how so many people end up with such a variety of diagnoses based on a set number of symptoms. For instance I've noticed that borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder share a lot of the same symptoms . Stress and anxiety seem to fuel these mental health problems. Even the medications used to treat them seem to have some overlap. What I also worry about is how many pdocs screw around with peoples brain chemistry treating them like a guinea pig while they try out a bunch of very potent mind altering drugs on them before they find a cocktail of that works. Are they really working for the patient or the damn drug companies. I was given haldol in the hospital as an involuntary patient once and it nearly killed me because I had a bad reaction to it, Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome. Any way you cut it that can't be healthy especially when they do it to very young children whose brains are still developing. Even 'food', like too much sugar can mimic the highs and lows of bipolar disorder.
Many doctors and scientist will readily admit that they don't know exactly how some medications work or what exactly causes some brain disorders. If they don't know exactly what causes it how can they truly know what will work to cure it or at least reduce the symptons. Yes I know that bipolars should not take antidepressants, but beyond that I mean... i.e., I can't tolerate Lithium even at low does but I can Lamictal, etc

September, 11 2014 at 7:25 pm

I have bipolar and I did not suffer from childhood abuse. It upsets me when people reframe my life experiences to fit their own paradigms that I had to be abused.
I am not saying that trauma doesn't increase chances of mental illness but i do believe there are genetics involved as well.
I think my biological father might have had bipolar because he was an alcoholic, but my mother remarried a wonderful man and my childhood was overall really good.
I was bullied at school but I do not think that 'caused' my bipolar as one therapist tried to force his idea on me.

June, 19 2014 at 3:22 pm

Re "If you have a parent with bipolar disorder you have a 50% chance of having a serious mental illness", my shrink thinks an unstable childhood of neglect etc. can have made my bipolar disorder worse.

December, 5 2013 at 8:40 am

Natasha is just saying that childhood trauma can hasten the onset of bipolar if you have a genetic disposition for it. A genetic inclination also explains why people who do not suffer from childhood abuse also develop bipolar. In short, it is the genetic component that is the causal factor and not abuse.

December, 5 2013 at 7:40 am

Are you telling me that when a 3 year old and even a higher age gets treated worse than a barnyard animal and has every known abuse used on them including ones that can lead to death does not have a brain that develops totally differently than a normal one and cannot become bipolar I say BS. I can site many journals where just the opposite is said. Please stick to fact and not conjecture. Last I saw you dont have an MD nor PHD after your name. Her is just one citation that I looked at in a 5 second search.. I trust that you would agree this is a reputable institution.

November, 16 2013 at 1:32 am

I lived through sexual abuse and have dealt with that-it is in the past for me, but the bipolar lives on.... bipolar disorder is an imbalance of brain chemistry that years of therapy alone could never fix-mood stabilizers are starting to finally help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. Years of self-destructive behavior "blamed" on abuse, when really it was an undiagnosed bipolar person spinning hopelessly out of control over the course of, gee, 35 years!

Kathy Boehm
November, 15 2013 at 1:50 pm

I just wanted to say that I am an adoptee with bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed at age 41, and I found out at age 45 that my birthfather has bipolar disorder. I've had some tough experiences, especially in childhood, but I don't think there's any way to tease out the causes and effects. I appreciate my psychiatrist because he always treats me with respect and trust. He's never asked me about my childhood, and he discourages me from labeling myself.
Natasha, thank you for writing this post. You have a gift for weaving facts and feelings together.

November, 14 2013 at 3:55 am

True. Therapists hand out diagnoses like candy, and it's not just bipolar. I really feel bad for the clients. It can be kind of destructive and irresponsible, but doesn't have to be that way.
It apparently happens in the medical field as well. Read an interesting article about how this woman was given a stark cancer prognosis by a doctor who apparently didn't like her (she discovered this after getting copies of her medical records). It was a way of simply dismissing her. I think this happens in the psych field as well - probably more so.
I guess the only way you can avoid that is to arm yourself with information, but that takes some time.

November, 14 2013 at 3:31 am

Well, I think people search for different therapies for a reason. I just wanted to try anything to avoid medication - no matter how crazy the idea seemed. So what? Unfortunately, in the process of searching, you do come across those therapists who insist EVERYTHING is rooted in childhood.
Anyway, the medication helped me, so I my stance on that has changed.

November, 13 2013 at 6:40 pm

I do agree. I have been asked by therapists to explain my childhood traumas in the context of helping me with bipolar. And since I had a wonderful and very happy childhood I don't have anything to tell them. Mental illness does run in my family. My psychiatrist explained to me that it is genetic. I would like to also agree that I get annoyed with doctors and therapist who hand out the bipolar diagnosis like candy. It is a relatively easy one to manage with pills and therapy and the proper diet. Some authorities want a quick fix. They ignore deeper problems like those with Borderline Personality Disorder or other mental illnesses than can co-occur with Bipolar and require more treatment. I have had friends who get medicine and then get thrown out pretty much.

Kathleen Brannon
November, 13 2013 at 11:52 am

Forgot to mention that the friend has two master's degrees, one in social work and the other (the one she "learned" this from) in counseling.

Kathleen Brannon
November, 13 2013 at 11:47 am

It's stupid to be so reductive that you think ANY psychiatric disorder is caused by one factor. Apparently this is still being taught to grad students: My h.s. friend I reconnected with on Facebook believed that EVERYONE with borderline personality disorder had been horrifically abused in childhood. If they hadn't, their diagnosis was wrong. Like you say, this flies for DID but that's about it.
At the same time, I personally am pretty screwed up psychologically as well as neurologically (and the definition of "abuse" has been stretched by some therapists to account for the psychological part). There's a real chicken and egg dilemma there, as to what "caused" what--and treatment that addresses only one domain isn't very helpful for me. So I wouldn't discount all psychodynamic therapy; it's good for some of us bipolar folks, just not by itself.

November, 13 2013 at 7:26 am

Therein lies the problem. Perhaps it isnt your place to wonder what is going on with your friend based on your experience with bipolar. I suppose abuse can exacerbate symptoms, afterall, it is a form of stress. And much is written about the connection between stress and bipolar.
What pains me about the whole psych field is the number of diagnosis that fly around. It should not be issued so callously. I think some therapists aren't very good listeners. They are good at issuing judgements, though, which I think does more harm than good. There are some good ones ones out there though, and I don't want to deter anyone from seeking therapy based on my experience and observations. But I do think people should be cautious of therapists who are like this.

November, 13 2013 at 5:47 am

I'm wondering if people who have been abused have symptoms of bipolar disorder without actually being bipolar. I say this because a friend of mine, whose husband is abusive, displays definite mania to depression moodswings. She will be up for 3 or 4 days, working on projects, never sleeping or laying down; and then will fall into what she calls a "coma" for 18 to 36 hours. She also has moods where she is happy one minute, and screaming at her kids the next minute with such scathing vitriol and derision that it scared ME. I observed all this, and told her "Never, in my worst mania, have I ever acted like this ... you are completely out-of-control ..." She blames it on PMS. And maybe she has PMDD. I wonder what this is called, or if it is called anything, when a person has symptoms of a disorder but is not in fact ill with the disorder.
Oh, and I was abused as a child into adult-hood and have bipolar disorder. What I heard from various psychologists and pdocs is that the physical abuse may have made me medication- and treatment-resistant; and that the abuse has made some of my bipolar symptoms worse. I mean, I think abuse makes the anxiety worse. My most trusted pdoc, however, after hearing some of the stuff my mother did to me, said that my mother was without a doubt mentally ill. The rest of my mother's family insists that the bipolar came to me from my biological father; while HIS family insists he had PTSD from his experiences in World War II, and NOT bipolar disorder. Well, whatever, abuse has a toxic effect, both mentally and physically, and with two mentally ill parents, I was assured of having some sort of mental illness, at least I believe that.

November, 12 2013 at 5:30 pm

I've heard that same rubbish myself, so I can sympathize. In fact, it was a therapist who pushed this idea. Certainly my childhood wasnt perfect, and maybe a bit harsher than some, but definitely not as bad as others. My mistake was to be open to her suggestions. Not hard to do when you just want a concrete answer to what plagues you, and to be honest, I simply thought, "what the hell."
In the end, I realized that some people are just so trauma obssessed. She wasn't the only therapist who thought this way and for years I would simply end a therapeutic relationship if they insisted on pursuing it further. At least I checked out that possibility so I have no regrets. At least now I can simply dismiss this theory with a simple, "bullsh*t!" and move on.

November, 12 2013 at 1:57 pm

No, therapy can not cure bipolar. Lets say you had both bipolar and ptsd. Lets say you had therapy for the ptsd that was effective. Wouldn't that mean less triggers for mood swings? Wouldn't it make the bipolar easier to manage if you weren't waking up in the night from a nightmare?
But this is not the same things as saying the bipolar is only a product of childhood abuse. Such people are quite ignorant of the bipolar monster. Like the Balrog of Moria, it lies in the deep places of the soul. Do not dare disturb it. "This foe is beyond any of you" are apt words. It was there since the beginning of time. It didn't just appear when Pippin woke it up.

Natasha Tracy
November, 12 2013 at 9:04 am

Hi Anna,
Just to clarify: you actually have a 50% chance of having a serious mental illness (not necessarily bipolar). :) That probably doesn't help but I just wanted to clarify.
- Natasha

Anna Williams
November, 12 2013 at 8:52 am

I am a first year student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and I found this blog post extremely informative and interesting. I am a social work major with a particular interest in the field of mental health. I have several close family members that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. One of my parents suffers from bipolar disorder and I found it very interested that I, being a child of someone with this disorder, have a 50% chance of developing it. This statistic is both alarming and intriguing to me at the same time. Mental illnesses are certainly nothing to take lightly, but with the right treatment they can be very manageable, you just need to have the right mindset and attitude to own the mental illness and not let it own you.

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