Now we know bipolar is not a genetic disorder…

The idea that mental illness was caused by bad genes was put forward by the Nazi party in 1936. Their propaganda, prior to World War II, altered opinions around the world and being such a simple concept it has stuck.

Science has not helped the situation by describing bipolar disorder as heritable, because it is influenced by the environment. It is now known that the Nazi idea was based on bad science. The heritable observations were entirely due to the environment, such as what was going on in the home that all family members were experiencing

All genetic studies to date:

1)      show no link to genetics

2)      environmental factors are the major cause of psychiatric problems

3)      fail to be repeatable

It turns out anyone can be diagnosed/labelled with bipolar disorder regardless of their genes. Genetics is not at all relevant to bipolar disorder. This has been proven by looking at all the published studies across the world.

On Friday 11th November 2011 Professor Richard Bentall presented a summary of evidence to date for the causes of psychotic illnesses. Major studies around the world have again and again shown that genetics are not significant.

Here is an example of how the myth been perpetuated: Four siblings were all diagnosed with schizophrenia and this was presented as evidence for a genetic link even after it was discovered that they had been repeatedly sexually abused by their father, with sexual abuse being known to be a major factor in developing psychosis regardless of a person’s genetic make-up.

Examination of 27,572 research papers has shown the following are all significant factors, sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying, being of a very different skin color compared with the bulk of the population, being a homosexual, bisexual or trans-gender person in a place where people are not tolerant of such differences, diet, being from a poor family in a rich community, stigma of almost any kind, use of illegal drugs, use of legal drugs, living in a city. There will be other causes. This research did not show genetics to be a significant factor.

It has recently been found that the false teaching of genetics as a possible cause of mental disorder increases stigma and makes life more difficult for sufferers. This can be explained in the idea that, it is easier to live next door to a neighbor who seems to be struggling mentally due to stress, as most of us have experience of this, but it is difficult to relate to a neighbor who you believe has a faulty brain from birth. It will seem that they will always be different from you and you will not be able to help them.

There is no doubt at all that absolutely anyone can be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder regardless of race/genetics. Just look at the bipolar people we know – there is a complete spectrum.

About Roger Smith (in the UK)
Helping you to think about bipolar disorder in different ways so that we can eliminate the disorder and eventually eliminate the need for this diagnosis.

6 Responses to Now we know bipolar is not a genetic disorder…

  1. jcalpaca says:

    I’m not believing that genetics are not significant, as my cousin also has bipolar disorder.


    • Roger Smith says:

      I know what you mean when you say about a cousin having the same diagnosis. I read the other day that 25% of American adults now believe themselves to be ‘a bit bipolar’ – I have no idea if that is true or just another myth put out by our own bipolar industry in the UK. I have read that the number of USA citizens diagnosed with bipolar has exceeded six-million, so even with no hereditary factors at all, loads of people are going to start noticing that they have relatives who are also diagnosed.

      It is the environmental part of the hereditary equation that determines whether a diagnosis happens or not. If you or cousin had moved to another country at an early age you may both have avoided diagnosis. (Finland for example is a place where many mental health specialist are trained to work with people who are manic for several days before offering any anti-psychotic and hence now have virtually eliminated some diagnosis in some areas. They have great recovery rates without the need for diagnosis. In one area the Schizophrenia diagnosis rate has dropped from 22 per 100, 000 to just 3 per 100,000)

      If you grew up near your cousin it is likely that similar things happened to you at some time in your lives. Maybe you drank the same water, watched the same TV programs, knew the same troublesome relative, both ate pizza at the same restaurant… the thing about environmental factors is they all add up. I know that when doing the self management of bipolar courses that included asking people if they wanted to share something from their past every person who chose to share (and that was more than 90%) said about some sort of trauma, abuse or some lesser thing that happened to them that they had found really upsetting and felt contributed to the disorder.

      In fact the only time I have met someone who said this had certainly never happened to her and hers was nothing to do with trauma or abuse… as soon as her husband left the room she whispered that she was lying as her husband would kill the man who abused her if he ever found out what had happened prior to her diagnosis.

      There will be plenty of bipolar people who did not suffer in this way as diet and a hundred other things can trigger troubles with mood. For me, the biggest factor turned out to be a mild food intolerance that kept me awake at night. Then it was drugs that finally pushed me over the edge.

      Again, it could seem to be genetic. I have a relative with similar food intolerances to me, yet she sought help for hers while I was too macho to believe something that tiny could be keeping me awake night after night.

      It is how we react to stressors that determines whether or not we find ourselves in front of a prescribing psychiatrist. I hope that answer is not too blunt.


  2. Pingback: ‘Now we know #bipolar is not a genetic disorder…’ by @moodandrecovery #mhuk « Dawn Willis sharing the News & Views of the Mentally Wealthy

  3. Carolyn,

    > I understand this article has been reposted by Carolyn and others, it was written by me, not in my professional capacity with references, but rather as a readable article to get people thinking about alternatives. I will answer your points here…

    Four siblings with schizophrenia merely INFERS a genetic link. In order to know if there is a genetic link, you have to actually look at the genes. There’s no indication that was done.

    Yes, exactly that was the point. This ‘evidence’ of genetic links comes from before DNA testing. Much of the ‘evidence’ in text books is from similar non-scientific sources.

    You appear to have made gross, global statements based on one lecture by one man. If he had said the opposite of what he did, would you now be shouting that mental illness is all genetic?

    You have a good point. A few years ago I attended a lecture about bipolar and schizophrenia genes having been found. I checked out the sources and it all seemed credible. Unfortunately, I had already told a lot of people about this breakthrough, before it proved to be untrue. I agree that it would be unwise to blog anything that comes from just one scientist/one team.

    NIMH published a study that identified a certain gene that comes in a long form and a short form. People who got the short form got depressed; people who got the long form did not. (Unfortunately, I cannot lay my hands on the study at the moment.)

    I have seen many reports like this. They appear briefly and then cannot be found again. A challenge facing the geneticists is repeatability. One team will find something interesting but the next team to look are unable to find the same.

    The same is true of alcoholism, e.g., if you get a certain gene and live on a hog farm, you probably won’t become an alcoholic, but if you get the same gene and live next door to a bar, you might. GENES DO NOT CAUSE MENTAL ILLNESS; THEY DO CREATE A VULNERABILITY. Life experience does the rest.

    This true. We all start off with vulnerability and then environment/experiences determine what happens to us in life.

    The four siblings who developed schizophrenia turned out to have been sexually abused by their father. Their schizophrenia was based on life experience–but here’s my question: why did they all develop schizophrenia? Why didn’t they develop psychotic depression or multiple personality disorder or a mixture?

    My article is deliberately brief. There are a number of reasons – one was that they were all diagnosed by the same psychiatrist!

    And having a genetic predisposition is not a life sentence. It does not mean you will acquire mental illness, or Parkinson’s disease, or a whole lot of other stuff. It only means you might. It only means that if you have certain life experiences, then you might–and you can work on the life experiences.


    I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, type 2. The trigger is the perception of powerlessness (which, by the way, was virtually everything in your list). I have learned to pay attention when I get depressed, notice what power issue has come up, and respond to it appropriately, e.g., a Medicaid worker consistently is abusive to clients, and I get her fired. Then I get happy again. I act with power, which reverses the trigger, changes my brain chemistry, and ends the depression. I still have the gene, but I have changed my behavior.

    You say that you, “still have the gene”. I wonder if you would consider saying, “I believe I have genes that make me susceptible” This I believe to be healthier thinking, in that there is no evidence of such genes. After years of research these genes have not been found, so it has to be healthier to admit the possibility that something that cannot be found may not exist.

    I used to believe that somehow I had genes that made me susceptible to anxiety and hence the greater risk of diagnosis. Now, being a scientist and having studied the evidence it turns out that everyone has the genes necessary to be anxious, including my brothers who did not find themselves in hospital and on medication.

    Genetics does not mean you will get mentally ill; it does mean that you need to learn different life skills.

    Yes, I agree. The only difference in our beliefs is that you have seen evidence that there is a gene whereas I know of no evidence that there are no specific genes relating to psychosis, schizophrenia or bipolar. We can all experience these things and genes make so little difference they can be pretty well ruled out compared to environmental factors.


  4. Miss Joanne Hazel George says:

    i thought this to be the case that bi-polar wasnt hereditary. However, in pas times the bi-polar organisation has published a children’s book that states that bi-polar is hereditary I think this is a terrible oversight on their part, as when children read it with because their parent has the condition they will be frightened that they may get bi-polar too. After reading the findings I will be e-mailing the bi-polar association to get them to update their literature.


  5. Dr. Ramon Argila de Torres y Sandoval says:

    Hi Dr Ramon, Thank you for contributing. I hope you are okay with me slightly editing what you have written as I was struggling to work out what you were meaning. I will keep your original words below. Please let me know if my interpretation is correct. If I have correctly understood I can respond more usefully. Let me know if you are happy for a reply here or perhaps I can email you?

    Edited (Roger’s interpretation):
    My wife experienced an earthquake while as a child. Her parents were away at the time. Her caregiver panicked and ran away leaving her alone. This may have been a severe early trauma that may have caused her brain to become sensitized. She experiences anxiety, which seems to trigger depression, which seems to lead to other bipolar symptoms. Her mind seems to struggle for homeostasis.

    My experience with my wife is that I can act in exquisitely similar manners day-to-day, but her inner-experience of my behavior is different. What is acceptable, even welcome (a joke, a pun, etc.) seems to cause a ‘melt-down’ the next day. I was trying to cheer her up with a play on words and she immediately became stressed, that is, until her son said, “Hey, he’s making a joke. Calm down.”

    Early trauma (as a child my wife was in an earthquake while her mom and dad were gone, the caregiver panics and runs away leaving her alone), her brain has become sensitized and she experiences anxiety, anxiety triggers depression which can lead to bipolar as the mind struggles for homeostasis.

    Sounds logical however, I may have completely missed the mark. My experience with my wife is that I can act in exquisitely similar manners day to day, but her inner experience of my behavior is different. What is acceptable, even welcome (a joke, a pun, etc.) is cause for a melt down the next day. I was trying to cheer her up with a play on words and she immediately stressed, that is, until her son said, “Hey, he’s making a joke. Calm down.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: