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Although there is certainly a hereditary aspect of depression, genetics is far from the only contributing factor when it comes to mental illness.

There are numerous factors that contribute to mental illness, and yes, genetics is one of them. There are four major components that influence an individual’s likelihood of depression.

  1. Biological characteristics: different individuals have varying amounts of chemicals that influence depression. Medication can help in this aspect, as it balances out those chemicals artificially.
  2. Neurological functioning: it’s not just the chemicals in your brain, but the pathways those chemicals take that could impact mental health. The functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain have been correlated with depression.
  3. Hormones: the endocrine system regulates a person’s hormones from pre-birth until end of life. The endocrine system is not a single organ, but is present throughout the body, and its ability to operate effectively can be a cause of depression.
  4. Genetics: an individual whose family members have struggled with depression or anxiety is at an increased risk of having the same condition. Although there is not a single identifiable gene responsible for mental illness, research continues to be conducted to identify genes that could play a significant role in the onset of depression.

Although depression and anxiety can be hereditary, it is not always passed on by parents. Unfortunately, mental illness often goes undiagnosed or otherwise untreated. Additionally, past generations sometimes saw greater stigma around seeking help for mental health. If you are concerned about anxiety or depression, do not let a clear family history bar you from pursuing treatment.

Upon finding out about the genetic links to depression and anxiety, it can be tempting to cast blame. If one or both of your birth parents struggled with mental illness it is more likely that the illness was passed on to you. Assigning responsibility to family can be harmful and cause immense guilt, either on the part of the child or the parents. The path toward recovery always moves forward.

If you are worried about passing on depression to a child, know that depression is extremely common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in every 6 adults will experience clinical depression at some point. Understanding hereditary depression and its symptoms can help you to stay on the lookout for symptoms proactively. If anything, knowing about a potential genetic link in depression among family members can help you take necessary steps well in advance.

It is important to recognize that even if family has caused harm in other ways, that no person can choose what traits are passed on. You should not feel any sense of diminished dignity because of an unfavorable gene, nor should your mother or father. The same biological process that may have increased your chance of depression or anxiety also gave you positive traits, like resilience.

Dwelling on a genetic predisposition to depression and anxiety can be debilitating. Genetics cannot be changed, but it’s only one of dozens of factors that influence the degree to which someone will experience symptoms of depression. Time spent worrying about passing on traits can be pivoted to time spent decreasing risk factors that we are able to change.

Here are some practical adaptations you can make in your life to decrease the likelihood (or severity) of depression and anxiety.

  • Positive thinking patterns: changing your cognitive processes to focus on more happy, productive and hopeful thoughts is both a treatment for depression and a preventative measure you can take to protect against it. Implementing positive thought patterns is a practice best fulfilled with the guidance of a mental health professional, who can point out your thinking patterns and teach you to model healthy patterns for any children or dependents.
  • Exercise and healthy eating: exercise and nutrition will always be near the top of the list to decrease negative symptoms of mental illness. Active living will help you to feel and look your best, inside and out. A healthy lifestyle means a healthy brain, and that brain chemistry and endocrine system will get a major boost when you’re treating yourself right.
  • Self-esteem: in addition to positive thinking patterns and a healthy lifestyle, maintaining confidence and security in yourself will yield major perks for your mindset, decreasing your risk of depression and perhaps lessening the severity if you’ve already been diagnosed.
  • Medication: this should only be done with the assistance and guidance of a professional. Talk to a psychiatrist about his or her recommendations, and adhere to any dosage and frequency parameters they identify. Medication can mitigate symptoms and lessen depression as it regulates brain chemicals and hormones.

In summary, yes: depression and anxiety can be hereditary struggles. There is research that shows an increased risk of mental illness when a blood relative is also affected. However, there is also ample research that demonstrates ways to lessen the likelihood of mental health issues, along with action steps you can take today to protect yourself and your family. If you still have questions, get in touch with a psychiatrist at Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare when you call (678) 325-3486. Or, visit us online to learn even more about depression and the steps you can take to limit its effects on your health and wellness.

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