Inheritance of It

My father has Bipolar and I was wondering what the risk is of me having it as my brother also has it.

It is true that if a parent has bipolar it increases the chances of a child having the illness also significantly.  However it does not mean indefinitely.  According to studies done at John Hopkins University parents with bipolar II were 40% likely to pass down bipolar II to their children.  Likewise 22% of the bipolar I parents also passed down bipolar II to their children.  Doctors are still not quite sure why or how this happens.  There still aren’t enough studies or evidence to point to any one factor.

I have two children, two daughters, both highly intelligent.  Bug is 10, Bee is 7.  When Bug was 7 yrs. old she started showing symptoms and I immediately got her help.  She was diagnosed bipolar pretty quickly.  She’s had a very rough 3yrs.  After one suicide attempt when she was 8yrs old, her diagnosis now includes Bipolar with psychotic tendencies, General Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, ADHD, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Thankfully she is now on a med cocktail that has left her fairly stable and functioning quite well.  Bee seems to be quite healthy.  Except for some minor self-esteem issues which we are working on she seems to be unaffected.  Obviously it is still too early to say without a doubt that Bee will never be diagnosed with a mental illness, but as it stands she is showing no warning signs and I have no reason to believe she ever will.  Also, another example, knowing what I know now about bipolar it is my beliefs that my father was possibly undiagnosed bipolar while I was growing up. (I no longer speak to him).  If this truly is the case, I have two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother.  I am the only one with a diagnosed mental illness.

So, you see your father having the illness does increase your risk of having bipolar more than an average person, however your brother having it really doesn’t figure into the equation.  Just because your father has already passed it down once does not mean he will pass it down again.  You are your own person, with your own set of genes and that means you inherited your own traits from your father aside from what your brother did.  The only way this does not apply is if you are identical twins, in the case of identical twins the lifetime chance of you developing bipolar (if your brother has it also) goes up about 40% to 70% according to multiple controlled twin studies.  These same studies also found that a twin has a greater risk of developing the same illness than another sibling in the family.  So if you are not a twin your risk factor goes down considerably.

You can find most of the statistical information I got at this link  I hope I might have helped shed some light on your problem and maybe put your mind more at ease.  If you’re still looking for answers feel free to contact us again at

One thought on “Inheritance of It

  1. Hi – I used to worry about this a lot when my brother developed bipolar disorder, especially as my dad was also diagnosed with a severe mental illness. I read the statistics but found it all quite scary at the time, even though as just said, it doesn’t mean that you will also become ill, and it is mostly statistically less likely that you will develop mental health problems yourself that that you will.

    After a while, I stopped worrying so much and decided that whether or not it happened, I knew that my family had got through this before and that we would again if it did happen to me too. There are lots of different factors that can lead to someone developing a mental illness, and genetics is just one small part. The most important thing – as for anyone – is to just look out for your mental health.

    There’s some helpful info on this on Rethink Mental Illness’ Siblings Network, which I’m part of, as well as some ideas on how to cope with some of the issues and emotions you might sometimes experience when a brother or sister has mental health difficulties. You can find more info and also stories and advice from siblings on the website and they also have information on genetics and mental illness especially for siblings:

    Best wishes.

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