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Is Depression Genetic?

Depression is a mental health disorder than impacts a large number of people to varying degrees. If you have ever witnessed a family member or friend going through depression, you may have seen how debilitating this condition can be. With the big impact depression can make on a person’s life, it is easy to worry about the risk of developing this mental health condition. Like many medical conditions, there is also thought to be a genetic or hereditary component to depression.

Is It Genetic? Kind Of…

A common concern for those with family members who have suffered from depression is that they will also be affected by the same condition. And the answer is…unclear.

Recent Gene Studies

There has been extensive research done by many different practitioners and organizations trying to identify a genetic link to depression. Research has found an increased risk of depression among family members of those who have experienced depression, but it has been hard to pinpoint a specific gene that causes it. However, a few recent studies have found a few potential links between recurrent depression and certain genes; specifically, some studies have identified a portion of chromosome 3 may play a role in recurrent, severe depression.

Family Studies and Stats

Depression is thought to occur in about 10% of people in the United States. But as mental health providers continued to see and diagnose depression, they began to recognize a trend among those who had a relative who had also suffered from depression. Research has found that those with a first-degree relative who had experienced depression were two to three times more likely to develop depression than others. There have also been studies done on twins who experience depression, and these studies confirm there is some relation between depression and genetics.

That being said, genes are not the only things shared among family members. Sometimes the environment you are raised in or the experiences you have growing up can contribute to future depression.  In addition, a small child who grows up witnessing behaviors of another family member with depression may “learn” these behaviors during their development. Poor family dynamics can also contribute to the development of depression. For example, child neglect or abuse has been shown to increase the risk of depression for the children who suffer from these experiences.

Other Potential Causes of Depression

While researchers have spent time looking for a genetic cause or link to depression, they have also discovered many other factors that play an important role in depression.

Environmental Factors

Influences from the environment play a crucial role in the presentation of depression. There are so many factors that are outside of our control that can influence our behaviors and future mindset. Specifically, events that cause major stress, such as the loss of a loved one or extreme financial stress, can cause periods of grief or sadness that lead to depression. There are also some chronic or serious medical problems that can make people feel hopeless or sad and contribute to depression; these include conditions such as cancer, chronic pain, or diabetes. Experiencing abuse or other trauma has been associated with the development of depression. Substance abuse can also contribute to or make depression symptoms worse.

Serotonin Link

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain that has been linked to depression. This chemical is released in the brain as a “feel good” signal. When this signal is out of balance in the brain, it can contribute to depression. This theory is strengthened by the successful use of medications for depression that impact the balance of serotonin in the brain. That being said, it is not clear what might cause the imbalance of serotonin for some individuals. Researchers are currently considering the possibility that there is a genetic component to this theory as well.

Other Possible Factors

There have been some researchers working to evaluate the theory that genetics may be related to some people’s ability to handle stress better than others. This research is also looking at how these factors relate to depression. Finding an answer to these questions would help explain why some individuals who experience a certain trauma might develop depression while others are able to cope and move on without the same outcome.

Another potential link to depression that has been identified is gender. Research has found an increased risk of developing depression for females. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Some research has shown they have a higher genetic-related risk of hereditary depression than men as well.

Should You Be Worried? Not Necessarily…

You might be feeling worried if your sibling or parent has been diagnosed with depression that it is only a matter of time before you experience similar feelings. However, it is important to remember that while your chances of having depression might be increased, the majority of these people do not end up having depression at all. There are also people who are diagnosed with depression that have no family history of depression, meaning other factors also play a role in the development of depression than just genetics.

Depression can be scary, and it can be extremely hard to watch those you love go through it. In addition, you might be worried about your own risk of experiencing depression when a close family member has suffered with it before. While genetics have been found to play a role in depression, there are many other factors that contribute to its development. Having a family member with depression does not guarantee you will also experience this condition. However, if you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, do not be afraid to reach out to your medical or mental health provider about resources available to help you manage depression.


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