Children of parents with bipolar may be at higher risk for developing mood issues as well. According to a new study, children whose parents had been diagnosed with bipolar showed an elevated level of cortisol when exposed to stressful situations. The study, conducted by researchers at the Concordia University, is the first of its kind to reveal how this segment of children responds to stress stimuli. “Previous research has shown that children of parents with bipolar are four times as likely to develop mood issues as those from parents without the condition,” says senior author Mark Ellenbogen, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Psychopathology at Concordia University and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development. “The goal of our study was to determine how this is happening.”
Cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone, is the hormone that is produced when the body is experiencing anxiety. The researchers compared the cortisol levels of children whose parents had bipolar to the levels found in children whose parents did not. “Our study demonstrates that affected children are biologically more sensitive to the experience of stress in their natural and normal environment compared to unaffected peers,” says Ellenbogen. “This higher reactivity to stress might be one explanation of why these offspring end up developing disorders and is a clear risk factor to becoming ill later on.”
This new research may provide better intervention and prevention treatment for people who are at increased risk for developing bipolar. “We think we might be beginning to understand where we can intervene to actually prevent this increased sensitivity from developing,” said Ellenbogen in a related article. “We believe this sensitivity develops during childhood and our suspicion is that if you could teach both parents and their offspring on how to cope with stress, how to deal with problems before they turn into larger significant stressors and difficulties, this would have a profound impact.”
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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