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Amanda Murray

English IV AP

Mrs. Temple

27 Oct 2009

The Snowball Effect

            The Nature vs. Nurture debate has been a long and drawn out argument in psychology, one which would take decades to gather enough information and perspective to argue through rightly. In the case of Bipolar Disorder the offspring of parents with said disorder are at a higher risk of mood disorders due to genetic vulnerability as well as environmental factors, unifying both Nature and Nurture. A genetic vulnerability for mood disorders is present in those with Bipolar Disorder, which also has a chance of being present in their children, and to add to that Parents have greater difficulty parenting their children due to their illness. Both of these contribute a significant threat to the mental health of a child who is biologically related and under the care of a bipolar parent, especially if the parent is not medicated.

            The genetic vulnerability of those with BPD is one that has not yet been narrowed down to a specific gene; however there are many tests which show a correlation between relatives of those with BPD and mood disorders, otherwise known as affective disorders. Dr. Jan Fawcett, notable psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist, says in his book that current studies of genetics suggest “affective disorders run in families and this is due to genetic vulnerability” (Fawcett 44). Echoing the same sentiment in different words, C. Robin Boucher, resource specialist on emotional disabilities for Fairfax, Virginia public schools, quotes a study, concluding, “Mood disorders, influenced by both genetics and modeling, tend to run in families” (Boucher 146). In a study by Dr. Andrew A. Neirenberg, it was shown that children of bipolar parents are more likely to be depressed, and more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than children of parents without bipolar disorder. They were also more likely to experience general anxiety, separation anxiety, substance abuse in later life, and oppositional-defiant-disorder, which is basically an anti-authority complex (Laino 1).  Studies of twins in particular are of great significance to the study of genetics, especially in psychology because of the likelihood that family dynamics that cause mood disorders could be passed down, rather than an actual gene. However, in many studies it was found that monozygotic twins (identical twins) were more likely than dizygotic twins (fraternal) to both have bipolar disorder, thus adding more credibility to the claim that genetics affect the likelihood of bipolar disorder (Smoller and Fin 6). More intriguing from twin studies is the revelation that even with identical genetics, twins do not have a 100% rate of concordance on the bipolar disorder, though the majority concurs. Such results show that although a genetic vulnerability may be a large factor in the acquisition of a disorder, environment also plays a key role in BPD expressing itself (Fawcett 45). The reason why BPD being passed around through genetics is important to the subject of our paragraph here is because of the cohort effect, increased occurrences, of both BPD and affective disorders such as depression since the 1930s. Since both are shown at the same time, and we’ve already concluded that there is a genetic vulnerability and the increase is too fast to be genetic alteration alone, it can only be concluded that the environment in recent times has become a more conducive atmosphere for the expression of affective disorders (Fawcett 45).

            Perhaps there is some sort of personal grudge that God holds against children of bipolar parents, and bipolar parents themselves, seeing as their situation seems to only lead up to a mood disorder for coping with. Parenting is very difficult, even without the addition of a mental illness to bear, especially one such as BPD. Manic phases, characterized by euphoria, inability to be still, irritability, grandiose thoughts and actions, followed by the lowest of lows, depression, characterized by suicidal thoughts, loss of memory or concentration, apathy and lack of energy is enough to mess with any person’s internal regulation (Franklin 1). The effects of these mood swings are hard enough on the person who must endure these moods, but to have such a person “responsible for someone else’s mental and physical well-being” can be almost too much to ask for without repercussions (Oliwenstein 283). Stability is very hard to provide when one is struggling against rapidly oscillating moods, despite popular belief, the way a parent feels at the time has a huge effect on the treatment of their children. Support groups for people whose parents are bipolar bring this up often when discussing why their childhood was different from others. On the website Children of Bipolar, they describe briefly the fear of who they would face when they came home, the depressed parent or manic (Grett 1).

            One could easily argue that with medication, instability of moods can be regulated into normality; the problem with this argument in many cases is that diagnosis of BPD is rather hard to acquire. While a relative may recognize the mood swings in a patient, the feeling of euphoria that accompanies the sensation of mania may cause a patient to not realize or not acknowledge their illness (Franklin 1). Making the situation even more difficult, BPD can come across as something it is not, such as alcohol or drug abuse, and/or poor performance in school performance or work, meanwhile the longer it is untreated the more intense it becomes (1). During a manic period a person with BPD can become irrational, and perform actions that put themselves and others in danger, such as reckless driving, taking drugs or starting confrontations with others as an indirect suicide attempt (1). Actions such as those can create a highly stressful environment for a child, one characterized especially by instability and possibly even danger. Now, none of this is meant to say that a person with BPD should have their children taken away. All of this is only meant to highlight the possibilities of an un-medicated BPD patient’s effect on their children and to further justify the claim that children of those with BPD have a higher chance of gaining a mood disorder than other children and for good reason.

            In the case of children of bipolar parents, Nature and Nurture have tag-teamed to raise the likelihood that the children will be afflicted with a mood disorder. Because of these things, people with bipolar disorder should consider genetic counseling as well as their own mental health before having children if they would not like their children to be afflicted with an affective disorder or bipolar disorder like them. 


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
That is some pretty deep stuff. I can see a lot of that, but I think nature plays the most significant role on the extent of the disorder. Nurture comes into play on how the child can react to the disorder and subsequent behaviors. If a parent is out of control with the swings, the child learns all the good tricks. If the parent is in control and does what is necessary, the child learns that it is a livable situation that can have a few bumps in the road.

In any situation, a grown adult may have childhood influences but is ultimately personally responsible for how they live their life.
Oct. 29th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm still uncertain how much both effects each other when you put it that way. XD
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )