What Bipolar Disorder Can Mean for Sufferers and Their Children; EastEnders Is Helping to Bring a Common Mental Health Condition into the Public Eye. Professor Nick Craddock, Who Is Advising the Soap's Script Writers about the Current Stacey Slater Storyline, Explains What Bipolar Disorder Is and Whether It Runs in Families

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Byline: Nick Craddock

Q What causes bipolar disorder? A Bipolar disorder is a brain illness where a person has abnormally large and severe swings of mood, which they cannot control.

These swings may be in response to the things that happen during life, or they may occur on their own without any obvious trigger. We know that brain chemicals are involved - a "chemical imbalance" - and research is going on to find out more about this.

Both genes and the environment are important. The genes we inherit from our parents influence the way our brain responds to life and environmental experiences.

The relative importance of genes and environment varies from person to person.

Q I suffer with bipolar disorder. I would like to have children but am worried that I have a bipolar gene and that I may pass it on to my children. Am I right to be worried about this? A We know from many research studies that there is a tendency for bipolar disorder to run in families and we know that genes are important in influencing susceptibility to illness. However, many genes are involved - it is certainly not as a simple as there being one, or even just a few, bipolar genes..

Q Are my children likely to develop bipolar disorder? A Your children will have a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder than the children of parents who have not suffered with bipolar disorder.

To give you some idea, the chances that a member of the general population will suffer with bipolar disorder at some during their life is about 1% - in other words, even if they have no ill relatives, about one in every 100 people suffer with bipolar illness at some time.

For the children of a person who suffers with bipolar disorder this lifetime risk is increased to about 5% to 10%.

So, the risk is about five to 10 times higher. But remember that even a 10% lifetime risk means that the chances are 90% that a child will not experience bipolar disorder.

Q Throughout my life I have received various diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder, and various treatments. Why is this? A In the past it has often been the case that a person's diagnosis gets changed like this and it often takes time to find the correct medication.

This is because we do not have a very good understanding of the causes of the disorders or the most useful diagnostic categories to use to help decide treatment.

However, our methods of diagnosis and treatment are improving all the time. Within the next 10 to 20 years it is almost certain that we will have much more effective diagnostic methods and treatments that can be tailored to the individual to be much more effective and have fewer adverse effects.

These new developments will mean that illness is likely to cause much less disruption and distress in future than it has in the past. …