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“There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.” – Catherine Zeta-Jones

Like millions of others, Golden Globe-nominated actress Catherine Zeta-Jones suffers from bipolar disorder. In April 2011, Jones entered herself into a treatment facility to receive the help that she needed, and she is now an advocate for the better understanding of bipolar disorder.

Indeed, mental illness can affect anyone, just as it did with the very popular and successful actress. In fact, nearly 5.7 million Americans over the age of 18, or 1 out of every 25, will suffer from bipolar disorder in any given year.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks… [Symptoms] are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time.”

The millions of people who suffer from bipolar disorder are not unstable, strange or crazy, even though that is sometimes the stigma that society places on mental illnesses. It simply means that those affected by bipolar disorder, depression or any other mood disorder have to seek the proper medications or therapy to overcome their struggles, just as one would who is suffering from diabetes or high cholesterol, for example.

Bipolar Disorder in the APQ

The stigma of mental illness often carries over to adoption for many adoptive families. For some, when filling out the Adoption Planning Questionnaire (APQ), bipolar disorder is often one of the parts of the Medical History section that adoptive families get “stuck” on, as they are unsure whether or not to check it.

The question adoptive families often ask: “Is bipolar disorder hereditary?”

NIMH states that although children of parents who have bipolar disorder are four to six times more likely to develop the illness than non-exposed children, “most children with a family history of bipolar disorder will not develop the illness.”

The question then becomes, if bipolar disorder isn’t always hereditary, is there a situational component?

While NIMH does say that there may be a gene passed from parent to children that can influence bipolar disorder, it is still highly unlikely the child will develop bipolar disorder. More common is that the child will develop bipolar disorder if he or she grows up in a household with one or both parents suffering from the mental illness. This begins the nature versus nurture argument.

Now, the purpose of this article isn’t to determine how bipolar disorder develops in a child. The purpose of this article is to help our adoptive families determine whether or not they are accepting or unaccepting of bipolar disorder in their APQ.

Let’s look at why a potential birth mother may disclose that she has bipolar disorder in her Social Medical History form.

Unlike some of the other medical issues like diabetes or hepatitis on the APQ, bipolar disorder is very difficult to diagnose, and no test exist to determine whether or not a person definitively has it. The only way a bipolar diagnosis can be made is by a psychiatrist conducting a complete mental health evaluation, including interviews with friends and family members.

So, pregnant women who contact American Adoptions and disclose that they have bipolar disorder may or may not have a professional diagnosis. Oftentimes, these women may think they have bipolar disorder, when really it is more situational bouts of depression and manic episodes due to things like finances, relationships and, of course, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

For these women, who suffer from situational bipolar disorder, their child would obviously not have any hereditary effects of her mental illness. And even if the woman has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a psychiatrist, the child will not be exposed to parents with bipolar disorder and will have a very small chance of having the mental illness himself or herself, as stated by NIMH.

Now, can an adopted child develop bipolar disorder? Of course, it is possible.

While more than 95 percent of children adopted from American Adoptions are completely healthy, is a medical issue such as bipolar disorder, which is easily treatable, going to make the adoptive family love that child any less? Or if the adoptive family had a biological child who had bipolar disorder, diabetes or any other medical issues, would it even matter?

These are the questions adoptive families should ask themselves when completing the APQ.


As with every medical condition on the Medical History section, we suggest adoptive families seek the advice of a medical professional for more information about bi-polar disorder, and to research mental illnesses themselves, beginning with the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, listed below.

Also, American Adoptions’ Adoption Specialists are always happy to answer any questions and to offer their thoughts on these issues, who can be reached at 1-800-ADOPTION.

Researching and discussing these issues as a couple is the best way to come to a true, educated decision regarding the Medical History section of the APQ. Luckily, there is a wealth of information and experts on the topic for adoptive families to use to make a decision they feel comfortable with.

All statistics and information about bi-polar disorder was gathered from