Bipolar Disorder: Do You REALLY Think You Inherited a “Chemical Imbalance?”

Every once in awhile, one of my readers will ask for my input on a product, service, or system that relates to mental health. It’s usually in the holistic or alternative medicine categories. It recently occurred to me that many of the people shilling bullshit and false hope to desperate people parade the angle presented in the title: “Do you REALLY think you inherited a chemical imbalance?”

Let’s take a dive into marketing psychology really quick. This kind of open-ended question is not designed to make you think yes or no, even though it is a yes or no question. Instead, it is designed to instill doubt in your mind. What did you think when you read the title? Did you think, “Oh that’s total bullshit!” Did you think, “Wait, that does sound kind of ridiculous.” What was the reason that you clicked the link and landed on my blog? It’s not because you thought yes or no, is it?

Businesses and advertisers bet their advertising budgets on that kind of thinking every day.

I was asked to look over a book and system that a medical doctor was selling through their website. The central theme of the author’s message was “Isn’t it a little ridiculous that the establishment says you can inherit a chemical imbalance? You can fix that with diet changes, regular sleep, and natural living!” I could tell that their website copy was written by marketers and probably proofread by a lawyer because there were no solid assertions, only leading questions like the above, designed to funnel your mind down a particular path: that it’s totally ridiculous that you can inherit a chemical imbalance and you should buy my book and two month long program for a metric shit-ton of cash to get it under control!

About 80% of the information on the site was valid, useful information. The problem is that they willfully omitted a chunk of very important, relevant information that helps to clarify the entire picture. In retrospect, I realized that quite a few people selling bullshit products and services do the same thing. They sell the angle of chemical imbalance pretty hard because it doesn’t sound severe, much like “mood disorder” doesn’t sound all that severe until you understand what it is.

Do I REALLY think I inherited a chemical imbalance? No. I think I inherited a genetic predisposition for the physical differences of the brain that CAUSES Bipolar Disorder and the chemical imbalances associated with it. It is known that Bipolar Disorder is genetic and heritable. It is known that the brain of a Bipolar person is physically different.

How many Bipolar people reading this right now can think of at least one other family member who is likely Bipolar? How many supporters reading this can clearly see other examples of mental illness in their loved one’s family? I know that it is pretty damned clear in my own family history.

Why would Bipolar Disorder frolic through the family lineages of many of us? The only truly unifying thread is the genetic information being passed down. There are plenty of people who do not manifest a mental illness that runs in the family. That’s what genetic predisposition is all about. That link points to a discussion about recessive and dominant genes as related to hair color and eye color, a very common way to explain genetic predisposition.

The same is true for several mental illnesses. Just because there is a genetic predisposition for it, a potential for it to be there, doesn’t mean it will emerge. Neither of my parents or any of my siblings manifested Bipolar Disorder; but once you start jumping out to extended family then you can see evidence of it all over the place.

Con artists and the ignorant parade and tout the chemical imbalance angle without ever addressing the real question: “Why is the chemical imbalance there in the first place?” They also tend to conveniently leave out the numerous other factors associated with Bipolar Disorder; such as overworking and inhibited sections of the brain it affects, volume loss of brain matter that intensifies unwell cycles, abnormalities in the way the brain communicates between sections, and more.

“But, Dennis! You’re not a doctor or mental health professional!”

Correct. I am not. There are plenty of qualified professionals out there who are ignorant, have no idea what they’re talking about, or are just plain terrible people. A lot of people look at “Doctor” and think “trustworthy.” I once had a doctor for all of 10 minutes, right up until he revealed that he “didn’t believe in Bipolar Disorder,” and wasn’t going to re-prescribe my lithium because “I didn’t need it.” Now, for people that are unaware, lithium is not a “fun” drug. No one wants to take the shit. It doesn’t get you high or anything of the sort. I don’t take it because I like it or because it’s fun. No one does. I take it because it keeps me sane and from tearing my life to pieces on a regular basis.

And that does not mean that all doctors or mental health professionals are bad. Not at all. I’ve had some great ones. Trust, but verify.

“But, Dennis! People with Bipolar Disorder are normal just like anyone else!”

No. We’re not. And the sooner that we come to terms with that, the easier it is to swallow all of the bullshit that we have to go through to be well, balanced, and maintain it long-term. Our minds are physically different. Our thought processes are different. Our emotional reactions are different. We are not “normal.” We have to learn how to live and exist in a way that is right for us, that will allow us to find whatever happiness and peace of mind that we can find, and mitigate the destruction that can surround us due to unwell cycles.

People that push ideas like, “it’s just a chemical imbalance” are not just selling a product, they are selling false hope that we can be normal. “Just buy my books/program/services/crystals/chakra realignment/psychic healing/nutrition plan/herbal supplement and then you can be just like everyone else, too! We have a simple solution to all of the pain, misery, suffering, loss, and destruction you’ve suffered! Big Pharma just wants to turn you into a customer! Not cure you! BUY MY SHIT!”

Those products have as much chance of curing mental illness as it does of curing a gunshot wound. They don’t address the CAUSE of the symptoms, and science isn’t far enough along in it’s understanding of the brain and several mental illnesses to provide an ACTUAL cure. I may not be a doctor, but I know enough to understand how monumental and complex the task is.

“But, Dennis! Psych medication doesn’t treat the cause of the symptoms either!”

Correct. It doesn’t. Nothing that we currently have does. Many people interpret this to mean that everything is equal, but it’s not. No one’s spent millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours, research, and study on the cause and effect relationship of how chakra realignment or “purging toxins” benefits a person. And frankly, if there were anything to it, “Big Pharma” would have already bought the rights to it and produced their own products if they were as Machiavellian as the alternative health crowd would have you believe. Martin Shkreli, anyone? It’s not like we’re living in a vacuum where Big Pharma would be totally oblivious to the information and claims.

“But, Dennis! Big Pharma does x, y, z evil/shady/awful thing!”

No. “Big Pharma” does not. Humans involved in Big Pharma may or may not be doing awful things. But the same is true for anything, anywhere that humans are involved. For example, Steven Nardizzi, the CEO of Wounded Warrior Project allegedly using donation funds like a party slush fund. The Non-Profit sector didn’t do that. The Wounded Warrior Project didn’t do that. These are the alleged actions and decisions made by one person that affected a whole lot of other people, including denying wounded veterans the resources that donors were putting into their mission. Can we just write off the entire Non-Profit sector because of his actions? No. That would be stupid.

Just like we can’t write off the pharmaceutical industry because there are bad players in their number.

Be wary of anyone providing easy answers or making grand claims. In my experience, they’re either ignorant of the complexity of the problem or are con artists preying on the confused, hopeless, and desperate. I hope the few bucks in profit are worth the tax that comes with contributing to the suffering, chaos, and suicides of at-risk people and their family members.

And yes, I purposefully chose not to include that doctor’s name in this blog post. Putting that person on blast is not the point. The point is to better enable you to spot any person like them that may derail and jeopardize your pursuit of wellness and happiness.

Bipolar Disorder is a manageable mental illness. But it’s hard. It’s all hard. And not everyone will succeed, for reasons too numerous to list.

Beware of anyone selling simple solutions. They do not exist.


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8 Responses to Bipolar Disorder: Do You REALLY Think You Inherited a “Chemical Imbalance?”

  1. Sasa says:

    This is spot on. Thank you for the information. You rock Dennis!!!!

  2. Kim says:

    Well said, Dennis.

  3. Marie says:

    I get this all of the time. “You just want attention” Really?? Because I would give an arm for someone else to take that attention. “They (I’m assuming scientists) can’t even prove bipolar exists!” Um, yep, they can. Scans of BP brains vs. “normal” brains are decidedly different. “You can’t inherit something like that because it isn’t real” Again, refer to past answer. “You are just playing the sick card” Sure. Because I want to suffer (or pretend to) with debilitating depression and manic episodes that damage me forever and put me in psychosis.

    Mental illness is rampant in my family. Unfortunately, most of them will not even entertain the idea, let alone seek treatment. My mother wouldn’t until she had a complete and utter break from reality during mania. We had to involuntarily commit her and get a power of attorney for them to force meds, but we did it. She hated us at first but now thanks us often. She was eventually correctly diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder. My sister is now finally admitting that she MAY have a problem other than simple depression. I lost my little brother to mental illness.

    I assure you, general public, it is very real and very painful. To the point that some of us think we can’t do it anymore.

    {Stepping off of my soapbox now….}

    • Dennis says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I don’t have anything to add, just wanted to let you know you were heard.

  4. jan says:

    Hi Dennis,
    I recently stumbled onto your blog and wanted to thank you because it has been very helpful for me to cope with my sister that is bi polar. She was diagnosed and was on meds but she is no longer working so I believe she is not on her meds anymore. I do believe she has a chemical imbalance. It was evident ever since she was a small child. I wish there was some way I can help her but it just seems like she is always just finding reasons to be angry at me. Recently I have decided that I need to distance myself from her rather than trying to understand her because she has turned into a toxic and emotionally abusive person. She lives with my parents and they are tip toeing around her in their own home because she is so unpredictable. I decided that for my own mental health that I need to be away from her. I do not want my children growing up around this type of behavior. She consumes me and I can’t handle her anymore.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Jan. Thank you for taking the time to read my work and comment. It is an unfortunate situation that you find yourself in with your sister, and it’s pretty common for mentally ill folks with scant resources to quit their medication. It can be very expensive. I don’t blame you for needing to separate yourself from her and her toxicity. I’m sure this is an extremely hard thing for your family and parents to cope with as well.

  5. Ericka H says:

    (yeah I know, this post is a few months old0)

    I was going through a low cycle and thought maybe some talk therapy or CBT might help a little. I picked a psychologist specifically because I didn’t want another professional screwing with my meds. After two WHOLE sessions she tells me that she doesn’t prescribe medications. I said something like; Yes, I know, you don’t have a medical degree. She corrected that she doesn’t like her patients to use medications because she’s a “holistic practitioner.”
    Now I understand why I was able to get into see her the same week. I’m sure many of her past patients are either locked up in a facility/prison or have killed themselves.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Ericka. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I do check my blog very regularly.

      That is a really unfortunate situation. Professionals like that are a threat to so many people.

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