Depression is a common mental health issue that affects millions of Americans every year. Depression comes in many forms, but it tends to be marked by feelings of sadness, apathy, fatigue, and hopelessness. For some, it can last for years, while others feel it come and go in short bursts. In severe cases, it can be debilitating, but in almost all cases, it saps at least some of the joy out of your life. But where does it come from? Since depression involves uncomfortable emotions and thought patterns, it must be environmental, or maybe it’s something you’re doing wrong, right?
Well, more and more research is linking psychological disorders and mental health issues to your genetics and family history. But how much does your mental health depend on your genetic code, and can you stop depression if you have a family history of it? Learn more about depression and the role of the genetic makeup in your mental health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, depression runs in families and seems to be passed down from generation to generation. That seems to indicate a genetic component to mental health. However, how do researchers know that depression isn’t just a product of other factors that you might share with your parents? After all, many people share cultural, environmental, and social factors with the parents that they live with. Well, there are two groups of people that can help researchers separate genetic factors from cultural and environmental ones: twins and adopted children. Identical twins have nearly the same DNA structure and typically have very similar experiences when it comes to traits, diseases, and disorders that come from genetic sources.
Therefore, if major depression has a significant genetic component, both twins should have it if one of them does, and neither should have it if one of them doesn’t. If the majority of twins do not match in their experience with depression, then it’s unlikely for it to have a significant genetic cause. There have been several twin studies into the question of the genetics of major depression, and most of them found a significant genetic link. Adoption studies are also valuable in determining genetic causes for disorders and diseases. They work by examining adopted children and their birth parents. If something has a genetic influence, then children should match their birth parents, despite growing up in a different home. If they don’t match or resemble adopted parents, then it’s unlikely that there is a genetic link. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many high-quality adoption studies when it comes to major depression. However, adoption studies have confirmed a genetic link in other mental health issues like addiction and bipolar disorder.
According to the genetics studies, the heritability of major depression is around 37 percent on average. Heritability is the degree of variation in a trait that has genetic causes. In other words, it measures the influence of genetics on a specific trait (like developing major depression) in a given population. Studies also show a difference between men and women, where heritability is higher in women. Some estimates say that if you have an immediate relative that has clinical depression, you have a 50 percent chance of developing depression as well.
Even though genetics have a significant impact on your mental health, it doesn’t mean that you are destined to struggle with depression. And if you do, it doesn’t mean that depression is an unstoppable force that you will always be stuck with. YouTuber and therapist Kati Morton has said she likes to give depression a separate identity like a cloud that rolls into your life that you can work to get out of. If you have a family history of depression, you may encounter more clouds than the average person, but you can learn to avoid them when you can and cope with them when you can’t. Depression is a complex disorder that can linger and be difficult to get out of on your own, but it’s treatable.
Plus, with more than 16 million people struggling with just one type of depression, you aren’t alone. Depression can be treated successfully with psychotherapy, behavioral therapies, and medication. Depression can also be alleviated with diet and exercise. However, there is no one treatment approach that works for everyone, and part of the challenge will be finding what works for you. That’s where therapists and doctors can help.
If you’ve experienced the symptoms of depression, and they’ve persisted for a long time, come and gone multiple times, or advanced to severe despair, you may need treatment. Depression comes in many forms, and sometimes, it doesn’t go away on its own. It may start to get worse over time, especially if it’s left untreated. Effective depression treatment will involve personalized treatment methods from clinical or medical professionals. Sitting down with a therapist and learning new ways to cope with depression may be all you need to begin to improve. However, if that doesn’t work, there are pharmacological treatments that can be effective. Don’t spend more time in the dark cloud of depression than you have to. Learn more about depression treatment and how it can help you to take your first steps toward better mental health.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Flint, J., & Kendler, K. S. (2014, February 5). The genetics of major depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3919201/
Kendler, K. S., Gatz, M., Gardner, C. O., & Pedersen, N. L. (2006, January). A Swedish national twin study of lifetime major depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16390897
Morton, K. (2013, March 31). Retrieved October 30, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfrpO9PsGC0&t=317s
Taylor, L., Faraone, S. V., & Tsuang, M. T. (2002, April). Family, twin, and adoption studies of bipolar disease. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11920-002-0046-1