Depression And Genetics: When It’s In The Family



While your friend who’s going through a terrible divorce may feel a lot of devastating emotions that may stay for weeks or months, you may be sinking into a major depressive disorder – and family history may be able to explain why. “Depression is a disorder that develops from environmental and biological issues that are unique to each person.”, according to Deborah Serani, PsyD.

Perhaps your dad had it, or your sister, or your aunt. Seeing a family member go through depression can be really hard, but does it mean you, too, will suffer from it sooner or later?

Major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, is the most popular form of depression. Studies reveal that about 10% of Americans experience this form of depression at some time in their lives, and it may also be likely seen among siblings and their children. Deborah Serani, PsyD, states that “Depression in mild forms can deteriorate into more serious forms if left untreated. It’s the leading cause of disability among workers in the United States, and is responsible for upwards of $44 billion of lost productivity.” An individual with a family member who has depression is five times more likely to develop it compared to other factors.

How greatly does genetics increase the risk of depression, and what other factors possibly cause it?


The Depression Factor

A particular British research group has currently secluded a gene that happens to be predominant in families with depression. This chromosomal gene was seen in over 800 families that were suffering from the disorder. Additionally, other experts believe that about 40% of individuals with depression can trace it to a genetic connection, while environmental and other factors relate compose the 60%.

Another team of researchers are also increasingly interested in the result of a study they did – that depression runs even across many generations. Chelsea Simpson, a participant in a study, was asked to draw her family tree as it relates to depression. She made three branches that were assigned to her father, brother, and her brother’s two teenage boys. On her father’s branch, she drew a limb that she assigned to herself as having postpartum depression. She didn’t include her daughter, Caroline, as she wasn’t officially diagnosed. However, she is worried about her panic attacks and frequent anxieties. She has read that these are some precursors to depression.

Chelsea believes that she and her family are susceptible to depression. She says that like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, depression is indeed linked to genetics. According to Jessica Koblenz, PsyD, “Family history can play a crucial role in depression. A genetic predisposition can increase your chances of being depressed.”


Other Significant Factors

Someone who was raised by parents or guardians who are depressed may also be more vulnerable to the condition. When a child often sees depressed parents, siblings, or other family members, he or she may simulate the behavior of someone who is depressed. He may think that sleeping or sulking in one’s bedroom the whole day is not unusual, or someone crying doesn’t worry him because he sees people crying in his home frequently. This factor is environmentally inclined.


The Serotonin Connection

Experts have also connected serotonin to depressive disorder. Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical that connects brain neurons to each other. According to the experts, an imbalance or lack of this chemical may cause mood changes, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other theories related to serotonin, such as problems with its transporter gene, have also been considered a cause for depression.


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, known previously as manic-depressive disorder, is another type of mental illness that sometimes also runs in families. If a parent has it, the child is 15%-30% at risk of having it as well. If both parents are positively bipolar, then their child has a 50%-75% chance of having it. Proof of genetic causes are studies revealing that individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder have at least one relative suffering from bipolar or depression.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of depression that precede episodes of mania. It is equally seen in both men and women, although men tend to be more manic and women are more depressive.


Treatment For Depression


Specialists suggest that a family with a clear history of major depressive disorder should be in contact with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional even before children in their family develop symptoms of depression. Child psychiatrists can be hard to find, so it would be wise to get to know one, and perhaps make a first and second appointment for the child. Also, parents who have the illness must learn more about depression and how they can reduce the chances of their children having it.

Can depression be cured? This question is dependent on a case-to-case basis. For some members in your family, uncles and aunts may have been taking medications for a year and were weaned off it after. However, a sister has been in therapy and medications for two years now, and her battle with depression is more difficult than the others, including bouts of panic attacks and mania in between.

If you or someone in your family is depressed, know that you can control your illness. But first, you must be aware of the character of the illness and its symptoms and triggers. Remember to consult your doctor about your progress – or if the treatment plan is not working at all. Communication is very important.