Lets blame genetics. Or not ?

In my experience, claiming Manic Depression / Bipolar is genetic :

a) allows mental health professionals to rush to a wrong diagnosis, without examining the facts before their eyes e.g. the person may be having a drug reaction.

b) increases social stigma and discrimination. Including from within the family itself.

c) can leave the person thinking they can do nothing about their symptoms, as opposed to helping empower the person to bring about change in their own lives. Which requires daily work on physical / mental health and a holistic approach.

d) leaves those who have children anxious that their children could be next or those who have had a parent with this diagnosis anxious. This sometimes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thanks to the work of people like Dr Yolande Lucire, there is one aspect of genetics however that may be very relevant. Sometimes people genetically can’t metabolize certain drugs [1]. Forensic Psychiatrist Dr Yolande Lucire explains that not all people are born with a full complement of metabolizing enzymes, increasing the risk of side effects which can range from mild to life-threatening. Changing dosage up or down and starting / stopping drugs are also crucial times, sometimes affecting the person months after stopping. “There is a genetic problem in the cytochrome P450 (CYP450) family of metabolizing genes”.

It can be drugs that are causing the symptoms (prescribed or illicit). Those who have experienced trauma in life may be more likely to end up on prescribed drugs in the first place. In my own experience I was prescribed the drug Citalopram as I was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks, which would link back to some trauma in childhood and probably some lifestyle factors. This anti-depressant triggered mania and psychosis leading to a diagnosis of “Bipolar” in 2008, without factoring in that the drug was more than likely a major cause of my symptoms. I also have a 1st cousin that took a similar drug (Escitalopram/Lexapro) and ended up with the same diagnosis! My father was also given the label Manic Depression and experienced symptoms up until 1983 (which was for about a decade and then didn’t have obvious symptoms for the ten years up until his death in 1993). I now know that drugs can cause highs and lows. One day I will have the relevant test based on Dr Lucire’s work.

In many families there is a certain amount of dysfunction and inter-generational trauma. Not forgetting in Ireland it’s only a few generations ago that we had the trauma of the Famine. In my case about 4 or 5 generations back, as my grandparents were born in the late 1800s or very early 1900s. It may be more helpful to explore these traumas. Family therapy may also have a role to play.

Generations of families, especially in Ireland, have been indoctrinated into the flawed biomedical model. It can sometimes be more convenient to blame genetics than address issues and struggles within the family. Or within society itself.

In my opinion and there are experts that say this, research into genetics is not a priority. Money would be better spent on supporting families where a parent is going through emotional distress, in parenting courses and in helping children build resilience. Young people would benefit from learning about stress management and how to cope with anxieties early on in their lives [2]. They also need support with trauma e.g. if their parents separate or any childhood bereavement. Play therapy can also help younger children work through certain issues [3]. Play therapy is “a form of counseling or Psychotherapy in which play is used as a means of helping children express or communicate their feelings”.

Quote from Psychiatrist Dr Joanna Moncrieff ~ “The idea that we are doomed by our genetic make-up to develop life-threatening or disabling conditions is surely a profoundly depressing one. We will likely never be able to fully account for why some people experience extreme mental states, but we know that poverty, unemployment, insecure attachments, familial disruption, low self-esteem, abuse etc. play a role for many. We would be better concentrating on how to eliminate these from our society if we really want to reduce the impact of mental disorder, rather that pouring more money into the bottomless pit of genetic research” [4]. While this article is about “Schizophrenia”, this can also apply to Manic Depression / Bipolar.

When it comes to Manic Depression/Bipolar, no true biomarkers have been found and no significant genetic abnormalities have been reliably identified, that I’m aware of. When I wake up in the morning, whether or not mental health issues are genetic is irrelevant. Once I let go of blaming “faulty genetics” and started to see a more holistic picture of health, there was a lot more room for healing. When it comes to mental health there is nothing wrong with my genes. I feel we are a bit more prone to anxiety than some. There are people in my family who have had a lot of success in life.


[1] Adverse Drug Reactions ~


[2] 7 Ways to Help Students Who Struggle with Anxiety ~


[3] The Efficacy of Play Therapy With Children: A Meta-Analytic Review of Treatment Outcomes ~


[4] A critique of genetic research on schizophrenia – expensive castles in the air ~


Other Relevant Information

* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey, 1998 ~


* R D Laing used work of Nash and Game theory to study human relationships (18 & 25 mins) ~


* Music and Madness, Prof Ivor Browne, 2008 ~


Ivor talks about the family in here (don’t have access to this book at the moment but will come back to this again)

* ‘Physician heal thyself’ may be impossible task for a Psychiatry profession in crisis ~


“Today’s Psychiatry has strong eugenic roots in this 19th-century political philosophy. Its current obsession with genetics maintains that tradition”

* The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive presented by Stephen Fry


(some reference to genetics in here but nothing of real significance found. Not forgetting that some people in this documentary had taken cocaine, which can cause highs / lows).


Family therapy “is a type of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) that helps family members improve communication and resolve conflicts” www.mayoclinic.org

“Family systems therapy draws on systems thinking in its view of the family as an emotional unit. When systems thinking—which evaluates the parts of a system in relation to the whole—is applied to families, it suggests behavior is both often informed by and inseparable from the functioning of one’s family of origin”


Pharmacogenetics “is the study of inherited genetic differences in drug metabolic pathways which can affect individual responses to drugs, both in terms of therapeutic effect as well as adverse effects” (Wikipedia)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s