Parents usually enjoy seeing their own characteristics reflected in their children, such as a daughter’s green eyes or a son’s shyness. But studies show that bipolar disorder also runs in families, and experts say that most people who are living with the illness can identify at least one relative who has bipolar disorder or depression.
The genetic link doesn’t mean that one bipolar parent or even two will necessarily produce a bipolar child. Other factors, including stressful life events, abrupt changes in sleep patterns, and chronic medical illnesses, can contribute to a person’s risk.
Studies report rates of bipolar disorder between 4% and 15% in children with one bipolar parent, compared to 0% to 2% in the offspring of parents who don't have the disorder. And if both parents are bipolar, rather than just one, a child is about 3.5 times more likely to develop the condition.
Bottom line: Get to a doctor who is familiar with bipolar disorder. Your family doctor is a good place to start. He or she can usually recommend the next step in treatment and give you a referral to a psychiatrist (if necessary) that you will feel comfortable with.