Individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder experience alternating episodes of mania and depression. The environmental factors affecting the individual with bipolar disorder often act as either risk factors or protective factors. Risk factors, such as stressors from the microsystem, tend to increase the symptoms of the disorder. Protective factors however have a tendency to improve the individual’s mental health. The continuous mutual influence the individual and environment have on each other can determine how severe the symptoms of their disorder will be. Due to the high rate of suicide found in individuals dealing with the disorder, it is important that those with bipolar disorder are professionally treated.

            It is commonly accepted in the scientific community that bipolar disorder can be genetic. “Numerous studies have found that people with bipolar disorder often have at least one close relative with depression or bipolar disorder. Children who have one parent with the disorder have about a 10%-25% chance of developing the disorder themselves; children with two parents with the disorder have a 10%-50% chance (WebMD).” Still, there is plenty of research to assert that bipolar disorder can be caused by environmental factors. Some studies have even proven the physical environment experienced by an individual can increase one’s chances of developing bipolar disorder. “Environmental quality is an important direct and indirect determinant in human health (Smith, Corvalan, Kiellstrom 1999)”. With the findings of researchers like Smith, Corvalan, and Kjellstrom, we can conclude that bipolar disorder is not strictly a genetic disorder.

            Other researchers have found different environmental influences such as family life. Research has shown that different home life atmospheres can effect how effective treatment on a bipolar patient will be (Miklowitz, Goldstein, Nuechterlein, Snyder, Mintz, 1988). According to the study, depending on how children were treated at home, or the attention they were give, would be a major factor towards whether or not they relapse. Things like, making sure the proper medication dosage is taken, practicing exercises suggested by the therapist, or in general showing no support are all actions that can take place in a family home and will affect the treatment of someone with bipolar disorder.

            It is extremely important for an individual suffering from bipolar disorder to seek professional treatment. Not only can they be a disruption to society if left untreated, but they can be a huge danger to themselves. Suicide rates are seen to be heightened by this mood disorder therefore it is important for an individual to seek professional help. Treatment may be able to help control symptoms but continuous mutual influence the individual and environment have on each other can reflect on how severe the symptoms of their disorder will be. This is why it is especially important to keep the concern of suicidal thoughts in mind when dealing with individuals with bipolar disorder.

            The National Mental Health Association reports that 30%-70% of all suicide victims have suffered from a type of depression. Men are responsible for almost 75% of suicides, while woman have twice as many attempted suicides.

When an individual with bipolar disorder experiences stress, their episodes are likely to increase in frequency. Using the UCLA Life Stress Interview, Miklowitz (2006) evaluated how chronic stressors affect individuals’ symptoms over time. The results advise us that chronic stressors increase the frequency of manic and depressive episodes in individuals with bipolar disorder. Examples of chronic stressors were social isolation, poverty, having divorced parents or other family discrepancies. These results support the idea that when the individuals’ actions bring out a certain response from the microsystem, the individual’s mental health will be affected. Miklowitz (2006) also proposed that many parents who have children with bipolar disorder respondwith hostility to their child’s manic episode. This unfriendliness only increased stress within the family, which then increased the likelihood of the child to have a relapse. The parents’ negative response to their child’s episodes led to an insecure connection and a feeling of self-worthlessness growing inside the child. This loss of confidence can cause the child to stop trying due to expectations of failure, potentially leading to a self fulfilling prophecy, which could ultimately lead to unemployment or other undesirable outcomes. The individual’s episodes increased stress within his or her microsystem, which then perpetuated their mental instability setting them up for future failure.

            Individuals with bipolar disorder also experience a lack of social skills. Castahno (2008) used the IHS social skills inventory to compare interactions between individuals with bipolar disorder and their exosystem to interactions between those without mental illness and their exosystems. The IHS, a self-report questionnaire, was used to measure conversational skilland ability to interact with new people. Results revealed that individuals with bipolar disorder had lower IHS scores, suggesting poor people skills. Castahno (2008) proposes that this lack of social skill among those with bipolar disorder is likely to elicit disapproval from those in their exosystem. This disapproval will perpetuate loneliness in the individual with bipolar disorder, decreasing self-esteem. Due to the lack of support from the exosystem, the individual will be more likely to become depressed and further avoid any social contact. Ultimately, this could prevent the individual from seeking a job. If they have not spoken or interacted with many people, especially in a professional setting, it is likely they would get nervous in any job interview they scheduled. Considering interpersonal skills is greatly desired by many employers, the lack of social skills in the individual increases discouragement from those in his or her exosystem, which then increases the likelihood of mental illness in the individual.

            Miklowitz (2006) and Castahno (2008) support the idea that risk factors such as stress and poor social interactions amplify the symptoms of bipolar disorder. When the individuals’ ecological systems negatively affect them, their poor mental health is perpetuated through loss of self-esteem. These negative effects increase the likelihood of the individuals’ future failures.

            Continuous failures can leave anyone feeling upset. Combining continuous failures with someone that is going through episodes of depression may experience hopelessness and are at higher risk for suicidal tendencies. People with bipolar disorder have a high risk for suicide if they are not receiving treatment. Like it has already been established, patients dealing with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience suicide thoughts, and in turn, sometimes act out on them. It is for this reason that bipolar patients have a close eye kept on them. Therapists and psychologists will recommend that friends and family keep a look out for any red flags or strange behavior. Individuals with bipolar disorder usually see a psychiatrist of therapist at least once a week. It is a disorder that is important to monitor, when risk factors come in to play, the patient will likely need some sort of support system.

            The risk factors can amplify the very serious symptom of depression to the extent of suicide. However therapies can help manage symptoms. Support groups can give the opportunity to share similar experiences and conditions. Family therapy can help fix deep rooted conflicts and communication. For some, therapy alone may give good results but a combination of therapy and medication most commonly offer the best outcome. There have also been many cases where the patient has begun treatment on medication at first, and ended with therapy being sufficient treatment on it’s own.

Each case is different and may respond differently to each medication. Some of the more popular medications to treat bipolar disorder include Antidepressant SSRI, Mood stabilizers, Antipsychotics, and Anticonvulsants. Anti depressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications like Prozac often take 3-5 weeks to take effect but have proven to be very effective. The mechanics of mood stabilizers are not completely understood but Lithium carbonate, known as Carbolith, is proven to reduce the severity and frequency of manic episodes. Antipsychotic medication such as Haloperidol and Abilify can help reduce or control the symptoms. These powerful medications have gained the name “major tranquilizers” and some users may decide to stop taking their medications for this reason. Anticonvulsants are typically used to treat seizures however some have overlapping uses Carbamazepine is labeled to treat nerve pain and bipolar disorder as well.

It is important to see a professional to find the proper treatment or combination of treatments to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Risk factors adding stress can snowball and consume quality of life or even life through suicide if left untreated. Bipolar disorder is a complex mental illness. It is important to consider genetic as well as environmental factors in order to help those who suffer from this mood disorder. Properly understanding this disorder and treatment options can hopefully lower suicides in the future.


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