Understanding a Connection Between Mental Illness & Family History

Many with a mental illness may feel like they need to silence their suffering. The stigma attached to conditions like major depression or bipolar disorder can suppress people into hiding their pain or continuing to live a debilitating life in secret. But organizations like The Mighty, To Write Love On Her Arms and Mental Kilter are bringing a sense of normalcy to mental disorders, supporting people facing mental health challenges.

Connecting with these types of organizations, along with seeking medication, therapy or a deeper understanding of a mental disorder, can help you (or help you support a loved one). The following sheds light on the topic of mental illness and family history. By learning more about mental illness and factors beyond your control that may have cultivated it, you can start working toward managing your disorder step-by-step and stigma-free. Connection, information and knowledge are empowering in the context of your mental health.

Multifactorial Disorders

Mental disorders are known as multifactorial inheritance disorders. This means a combination of multiple genes, acting alongside environmental factors, can cause a genetic disorder, including behavioral, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. Genetics Home Reference also explains that although disorders do cluster in families, there is no definitive pattern of inheritance. In other words, a person with a strong family history of mental illness may be at high risk for developing one, but it’s not concrete. Uncertain specific factors and varying genetic contributions make it difficult to clearly identify if a person inherits a disorder. You could have a mild case of depression, for example, whereas a sibling has a severe case, or no symptoms of depression at all.

Environmental Effects

As a multifactorial disorder, mental illness arises due to environmental circumstances (in addition to genetics). Factors like trauma, emotional harm, substance abuse and even experiencing stress in the womb can make a person susceptible to a mental disorder. A paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information identifies research that a woman’s psychological distress while pregnant can affect fetal behavior and child development. Studies show that maternal anxiety and depression, for example, can cause an increased risk for neuro-developmental and mental disorders in children. Moreover, science journalist Annie Murphy Paul, during an interview with Scientific American, refers to a theory speculating that the effects of the stress hormone cortisol can increase the likelihood that anxiety and depression in a woman cause the baby’s development of mental illness.

5 Psychiatric Disorders Sharing Common Genetic Factors

The National Institutes of Health points to the idea that psychiatric disorders can indeed run in families, as well as share genes and similarities biologically. These five illnesses include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. If your family has a history with one of these five illnesses, then you may be pre-dispositioned to developing one as well. Mental Health America provides a list warning signs that can indicate a mental illness, along with coping strategies, that you can refer to if you’re concerned you have symptoms. Lifestyle habits like healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate sleep, stress management and emotional support services can also help reduce your risk of developing a mental illness.

Seeking Counseling & Exploring Mental Illness Further

Mental illness is complex, resulting from interacting genetic and environmental components; determining high or low risk isn’t clear-cut. But speaking with a certified therapist can help you with any mental illness-related concerns such as:

  • Managing an already diagnosed mental illness
  • Any concerning emotional or mental problems
  • Fear you may develop one because of your family history
  • Fear you may pass on a disorder because of your family history
  • Helping a loved one in need

If you need to connect with a professional to share worries or ask questions, schedule an appointment with ThriveTalk. ThriveTalk specializes in tele-therapy services provided by certified therapists who can conveniently and remotely treat and counsel via video conference.


Unplug Once a Week. It’s Good for You.

Internet addiction is epidemic in today’s society, and it’s bad for your physical and mental health. The average American adult now spends more than 10 hours a day staring at a screen — whether mobile devices, gaming, working or watching TV — recent Nielsen polling shows. All this time online can take a toll on […]


How to Cope With a Divorce

Everyone’s heard the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic. And like most things in life, the impact of this statistic is negligible until it happens to you.

Divorce is devastating, even under the best of circumstances. The sadness, stress and emotions can be overwhelming at times. If you’re going through a painful divorce and it feels like you’re just not coping well, take heart — you can heal. We have some tips that should make today just a little bit better than yesterday.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

To put it bluntly: It’s normal to be a mess. Divorce isn’t just the dissolution of a union, it’s saying goodbye to our dream of attaining our very own happily ever after. That feels terrible.

In fact, divorce requires a grieving process similar to what we go through when a loved one dies. It’s completely appropriate to feel a wide range of emotions — anger, sadness, fear, frustration, confusion — and there doesn’t need to be any rhyme or reason as to why you feel what at any given time.

The negative feelings will lessen over time, but in the meantime, give yourself permission to feel. Divorce is messy, but sometimes acknowledging that fact inherently makes it just a tiny bit easier. 

Go Easy on Yourself

You will likely be less productive than you normally are. That’s OK. You probably won’t feel like doing much of anything; that’s OK too. You don’t need to be superwoman. Treat yourself as you would treat your own sick best friend.

Granted, you can’t drop out of life completely, but it’s perfectly acceptable for your productivity and social life to take a downward turn while you go through a divorce. As long as you don’t stay there for months and months, this is to be expected.

Seek Support

This tip is vital: Lean on others for support. Talk, cry, express yourself — just don’t keep it bottled up inside. Allow your friends and family to be there for you. 

Sometimes we need more support than an understanding friend can give us. In these cases:

  • Look into divorce support groups. There are Facebook groups and other online forums as well as in-person Meetups and church-based groups. Start with a simple Google search to see what’s available and sounds good to you.
  • Seek professional counseling. If the pain of your divorce is too much or if you are having difficulty carrying out normal day-to-day activities, it may be time to seek divorce counseling.

Care for Your Body and Mind

Stress can cause myriad health problems, including headaches, insomnia, exhaustion, overeating/weight gain, digestive problems and reduced immune function. In addition, stress can cause a host of ill emotional effects, including anxiety, depression, inability to focus, lack of motivation, irritability and anger. No fun at all.

It’s essential you take care of yourself during this time. Doing so will minimize the effects of stress, helping you to recover and move on. Now more than ever is the time to:

  • Eat well
  • Get regular exercise
  • Keep a regular sleeping schedule
  • Spend time in nature
  • Nurture your friendships
  • Make time to relax and do things you enjoy
  • Tend to your spirit through prayer/meditation (or whatever that means to you)

Avoid Power Struggles & Arguments with Your Ex

One of the most important life lessons that will help you get through this difficult time is this: You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself and how you react to them.

Stop trying to force your ex to see it your way, be sorry for something, apologize, etc. Don’t get involved in power struggles that are only about being “right.” Refuse to participate in any manipulative or malevolent behavior. In the end, you’ll be happier for it.

Reconnect with Your Prenuptial Hobbies

Did you used to love to restore old furniture? Brew your own beer? Hike? Blog? Now is the time to resurrect any interests and activities you may have let slip when you became part of a couple. Or, explore new ones.

Set Time Aside for Positive Thinking

This is a simple yet powerful tool in overcoming any challenge. Most of us know that positive thinking is — well, positive —  but we don’t make a conscious, concerted effort to do it.

Change that. Block off just five minutes a day and devote them to manifesting good things in your life. Write them down in a “I deserve a joyful life” journal. Learn about the power of positive affirmations, and then do them.

Divorce is one of the toughest things a person can go through but you will get through it and be OK. Take time to grieve the loss, stick close to your loved ones and be good to yourself. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional counselor if you feel overwhelmed or that you can’t go on. ThriveTalk provides online therapy and can help you get through this difficult time. You’re worth it!