There are many causes of bipolar disorder and the illness is nobody’s fault. However, sometimes caregivers feel guilty and blame themselves for the person’s illness. For example:
- Parents sometimes feel guilty about passing on the illness genetically. None of us can control the genes we have. When a person has bipolar disorder, approximately 7% of their first degree relatives will also have the illness. This means that while there is a genetic risk, there is also a good chance that a first degree relative will not get the illness.1
- Caregivers sometimes feel guilty in case their stressful interaction with the person sparks off symptoms (see common bipolar triggers). Bipolar disorder can put a strain on relationships and the occasional emotional outburst is understandable. The person needs to find ways to build up their resilience to this stress. However, if these outbursts are more frequent it might be an idea to work out what is causing them and to address the problem. For example, you might find that you are very irritable and impatient with the person because you are feeling stressed and burnt out. What might help in this situation is to explain this to the person and take some time out.
1. Kelsoe JR. Arguments for the genetic basis of the bipolar spectrum J Affect Disord 2003; 73, 183–197.