Can childhood abuse trigger bipolar disorder?

Is there a link between abuse and mental illness. I’m wondering if the abuse is a trigger.
This is a great question! I asked this very same question when I was in outpatient hospitalization last spring. The answer my therapist gave me was yes. She had noticed that the majority of the people who come into the outpatient treatment for affective disorders had suffered some kind of abuse, physically, mentally or sexually. I have come to notice the same thing upon my own observations. There was a girl in one of my support groups that also asked a very similar question with the same results.As most of us are aware there is a link between the bipolar illness and genetics. However, what explains the illness in one person and not another, especially twins? There are several case studies where one sibling has the illness but not another. When this oddity of one twin having an illness which is thought to be linked genetically it’s difficult to understand why the other is not also ill and abuse may be the answer.My doctors have determined that it is quite likely I would have never grown up with major anxiety disorder if it had not been for the abuse I suffered as a child. If abuse plays a part in my anxiety why would it be so difficult to imagine that my bipolar could have also been triggered by the same disturbing events? Abuse can trigger so much of our mental capacity which is why there’s the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder so I truly believe it can be a trigger for other mental illnesses.My sisters and I all have the same set of parents. All of us grew up in the same household and although we all suffered though physical and mental abuse I was the only one to suffer through sexual abuse due to a babysitter. Humans can only be resilient for so long and perhaps sexual abuse was the trigger which gave me bipolar. It’s a great theory, too bad I’m not a scientist. Is there still a chance that I would have become bipolar some other way or that I was born with this illness as I cannot remember life without it? Of course. Do I believe that there are some people who could have grown up without ever needing to suffer but then someone did something to the individual that changed their life forever? Yes, I do. It’s definitely a trigger; I just don’t think it’s the only explanation for this illness.

6 thoughts on “Can childhood abuse trigger bipolar disorder?

  1. Good answer, Jen. I was shocked at the number of people on the Facebook page who said they linked their bipolar disorder to some form of abuse in their childhood.

    Thanks for a thoughtful and well said post!


  2. I also can’t help but wonder if some mental illnesses are triggered during pregnacy. For instance while i was in my mother’s womb she experienced a great deal of stress and trauma because of a fire in the house. It was a bad fire and my parents lost everything they had. I believe she was about 8 months pregnant at the time. Not sure if there are any studies out there on this but it is well known that our brains begin to form while still in the womb. It would be interesting to see whether people who have mental illness came from a mother who experienced an excess of stress/anxiety/trauma during their pregnacy. A very hard question to answer Jen, I think you did a great job! Vicky

  3. kathleen Novack-Tilton RN MSN

    Careful, careful with the conjecture.
    You may want to add the following beneath your posts:
    “I am not a professional, any and all advice that I give is based solely on personal experiences and is not intended to take the place of a medical or mental health professional.”

    As amedical professional who has worked for the dept of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and as a Bi polar myself my back gets up when I read opinion expressed as fact.

    In point of fact there have been several studies done on Bipolar men and women in two seperate studies and both revealed close to 45% or more had some form of abuse in their childhood history. However, the same incidence occured in the control groups of the same size. What is documented is the difficulty in treating Bipolars who have suffered from abuse.

  4. Miss Novack.

    I understand your concern, but there is actually a disclaimer in the footer of the website which states “Information contained within this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice relative to your specific medical condition or question. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your medical condition. Only a medical professional can provide specific diagnoses and therapies.”

    I hope that eases a bit of your discomfort. 🙂


  5. That’s great insight that you have added your experience – Kathy

    Jen V-that is really unique about siblings and hereditary or not. My half sister ended up “normal”,as i ended up tweaked,lol

    both parents had mental illnesses,i was given up for adoption because of it. For me this was herriditary though i think i was a little emotionally abused,but my sister was also sexually abused ,by a family member,and i never was. for me hereditary plays a huge part in it. Great post though,a new view on things is always welcomed in my book!

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