Jun 5, 2024 - Health + Traits

A New Report on Bipolar Disorder

Hannah and her dad

This week, we released a new Bipolar Disorder report (PRS), adding to a collection of genetic reports on mental health available for 23andMe+ Premium members.

Bipolar disorder affects millions of people worldwide. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 4.4 percent of American adults will experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives. Some of the genes that influence bipolar disorder also play a role in depression.  While bipolar disorder is different from depression, the two conditions have overlapping genetics

For scientists, these shared genetics can help explain why depression is also a feature of bipolar disorder.

HELP IS THERE IF YOU NEED IT

If you or someone you know is in crisis, don’t ignore it, there is help. You can call or text 988 in the U.S. or find a helpline in your area.

Here are some additional resources to help you or a friend or family member find the help you might need. Remember, you are not alone; some people can help you get the support you need. It’s OK to ask for assistance.

• 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline — formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 988 provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the United States. The Lifeline has a national network of over 200 local crisis centers, combining custom local care and resources with national standards and best practices. They can provide support or connect you with local resources. Either call or text 988, or you can call 1-888-628-9454.

• Crisis Text Line —The Crisis Text Line is another free resource available 24/7. If you’re not comfortable talking on the phone, you can text a trained crisis counselor. To get started, text HOME to 741741.

• National Alliance on Mental Illness — The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization that provides education, support, and advocacy. Their helpline is available Monday through Friday, 10 am to 8 pm E.T., at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). They also have a wealth of resources on their website.

• Therapy — Talking to a therapist can help if you’re struggling. An experienced therapist can help you navigate and find the best approaches to treating bipolar disorder. Even if you don’t have insurance, options such as community mental health centers or sliding-scale therapy are still available.

About the 23andMe Bipolar Disorder Report

23andMe’s new Bipolar Disorder report is based on a statistical model known as polygenic risk score (PRS), which 23andMe developed through its proprietary research database. The new PRS report was developed by 23andMe scientists and clinical experts using the company’s massive database of genetic and self-reported health information contributed by consented research participants.

However, it is critical to note that while genetic factors play a role, they do not determine whether a person will or will not develop bipolar disorder. Other non-genetic factors – such as stressful life experiences – also play a role. 

If you’ve already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, this report does not change that diagnosis. Continue to work with your doctor to manage your symptoms and treat the condition. 23andMe does not diagnose conditions, but if your results indicate that you have an increased likelihood of developing bipolar disorder, that is something you should discuss with your healthcare professional.

This white paper explains the science and methodology behind our PRS reports, such as the report on Bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

Everyone experiences an ebb and flow in their moods. However, for those with bipolar disorder, those shifts are more intense, affecting not just mood but energy levels, sleep, activity, and behavior. 

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by mood and energy swings from euphoria to despair—mania to depression—that can be severe. These big swings are known as mood episodes and can make day-to-day responsibilities a challenge.

The causes of bipolar disorder are complex and not completely understood. Some of the factors involved are related to biological differences, genetics, brain chemistry, and stress. In addition, studies show that drinking, smoking, and drugs can all worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

While research to fully understand the causes of bipolar disorder is ongoing, there are effective treatments, as well as strategies for managing the symptoms.

Genetic Factors

Bipolar disorder is known to run in families. As with other mental health conditions, a family history of bipolar disorder, depression, other mental health or mood disorders, and other conditions like autism spectrum disorder or drug abuse increases one’s likelihood of developing the condition. Research indicates that if you have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder, you have much higher odds of developing the condition, according to NIH.

Bipolar disorder is also often polygenic, meaning that thousands of genetic variants each have a small impact on the likelihood of developing the condition. Some of the genes that influence bipolar disorder also play a role in depression. 

Research studies — including work done by and with 23andMe scientists — have identified thousands of different genetic variants associated with depression and bipolar disorder. In the case of depression, some of these variants are in genes involved in neurotransmission and response to stimuli in the central nervous system. A few other variants have been found in genes involved in a neural growth regulator active in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is an area of the brain that’s been linked to depression in the past. 

More Associations

23andMe data — from 23andMe customers who consented to participate in research — indicates bipolar disorder is also very commonly associated with depression, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep issues. 

Our researchers recently collaborated with other scientists who are part of the Psychiatric Genetic Consortium on what is by far the largest genome-wide association study of bipolar disorder to date. The soon-to-be-published paper looked at data across people of different ancestries and found more than 300 genetic variants associated with bipolar disorder, a fourfold increase over previous genetic studies into the condition.   

Find Out More

The new 23andMe+ Premium Bipolar Disorder report (PRS) is more than assessing our genetic likelihood of developing the condition; it also includes helpful resources to learn about the condition and where to find help. 

While bipolar disorder is a chronic condition with no cure, there are effective treatments, including medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, that can help in managing symptoms. 

23andMe+ Premium members can click here if they wish to view their report.

Current 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service customers on the latest genotyping chip can receive this report and 35+ other reports by joining 23andMe+ from within their accounts.  These additional reports include other mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Learn more here.

Not a 23andMe+ Premium customer yet? Learn about all that 23andMe has to offer here.


FAQs

What is bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity, behavior, and sleep to the point that it can make day-to-day responsibilities a challenge. The “mood episodes” that are part of bipolar disorder include extreme highs, known as mania, and extreme lows, known as depression.

How common is bipolar disorder? More than four percent of adults in the U.S. experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, according to data from the NIH. However, prevalence data varies. Within 23andMe research participants, our researchers see slightly higher percentages.  

Is bipolar disorder genetic? While a person’s genetics do not determine whether they will or will not develop bipolar disorder, it is an essential contribution to the likelihood of developing the condition. Bipolar disorder also runs in families, and having a first-degree relative — a parent or sibling — with bipolar disorder substantially increases your odds.

What are some treatments for bipolar disorder or lifestyle changes to help manage symptoms? Every case of bipolar disorder is not the same, so treatment regimens differ based on the severity of the condition. In general, treatments often include medication – such as mood stabilizers – and psychotherapy. A lack of sleep, physical activity, or using drugs and alcohol can all compound symptoms, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps to make treatment more effective.


NOTE:

Within this blog post and the Depression Report, we use the word “male” to refer to people whose birth sex is male and “female” to refer to people whose birth sex is female. However, we recognize that being categorized by birth sex may be an uncomfortable experience for some people, and we do not mean to delegitimize anyone’s gender identity. Learn more about why we made this decision in this help article.

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