Question: If I have bipolar disorder, how likely is it that my children will develop bipolar disorder as well? Should I have them evaluated?
Answer: That's a good question. We do have studies looking at children who have parents with bipolar disorder.
And most of those studies, at least from the U.S., suggest that about 15-20 percent of those children already have some form of bipolar disorder. Now that's cross-sectionally. In the future, there may be more children who develop this type of disorder over time.
There are also children who have parents with bipolar disorder who have depression and many children who have ADHD. In fact, about half the children in these studies have some sort of psychiatric difficulty already.
So we think that those could be early precursors for full bipolar disorder. That being ADHD plus mood disregulation as well as full depression. Those children if they have a parent or a first degree relative with bipolar disorder could be at very high risk for going on to develop the full disorder.
Having said that, it's not just genetics. We really believe that it's a combination of the environment plus a genetic predisposition that leads to bipolar disorder.
So there are some things that you can do within the environment to decrease chances that your child is gong to develop this disorder.
And we're studying some of those things here right now but we think some of those things could be decreasing the level of stress in the environment and improving the coping skills of the child.
There are other things that you could do too. For example, regulating the sleep-wake cycle, making sure your child gets enough sleep and has a regular activity pattern, could be very important in promoting good mood health and preventing progression to full bipolar disorder.
Now as far as getting your child evaluated if you are a parent with bipolar disorder, that's a very good idea, especially if he or she is having some of these early symptoms I mentioned.
Things like ADHD or mood problems like depression or big anger attacks. Those could be the first signs. They don't necessarily mean for sure that your child is going to develop it but it makes sense to go get a good evaluation from a place that specializes in looking at children who may be developing bipolar disorder.