The Depression Family Tree: Is it Genetic?

Depression and Genetics

Brown or green eyes, black or blonde hair… these characteristics all link back to your families and their genetics. Unfortunately, so do health issues and disorders such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and maybe even anxiety and depression.

If you are new to my blog, welcome and thank you so much for visiting! I highly recommend first reading Anxiety/Depression: What Came First? The Chicken or the Egg? to better understand my experience with depression and anxiety, along with also getting a feel for why this is so important for me to discuss and shed light on.

When I was first diagnosed with depression, as well all know now it was more anxiety related, my doctor at the time asked numerous questions which were all linked back to my family history. The most common question I have been asked by doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists has always been “who else in your family suffers from any type of mental illness?” At the time I only really knew of my brother who has some anxiety, my grandmother who has depression, and my late great uncle. My question in response to those medical professionals was always “why does that matter? Is it hereditary?” I was always told “it can be”, but never got a definite answer to that.

As I’ve come to learn over the years, and more so this year, there was depression on three separate sides in my family. Multiples on each side as well. As comforting as it is to know that I am not the odd ball out, it is always a bit concerning for me as I get to a place where my future involves growing a family. Will my kids be more susceptible to having anxiety and/or depression? It doesn’t run on my husbands side at all which is encouraging, but it is worrisome.

Another worry I have is also postpartum depression, which is also linked in my family ancestry. According to allaboutdepression.com “If you have a parent or sibling that has had major depression, you may be 1.5 to 3 times more likely to develop the condition than those who do not have a close relative with the condition. You would also have a higher chance of developing bipolar disorder. Because close relatives of those with clinical depression have such a vulnerability to developing the condition themselves strongly suggests that it can be an inherited illness.” So for me, since my disposition to depression and anxiety is a little further out, how can I know if it really is hereditary or not?

Many studies show otherwise. Some say that the genes we inherit from our parents, create unique combinations which can link to these mental health disorders. According to Every Day Health, ““Even if someone is ‘genetically loaded’ because they have multiple relatives with depression — and their partner is equally genetically loaded — raising a child in a calm, predictable, loving, nurturing, limit-setting household with good nutrition, plenty of exercise, adequate sleep, and participation in enjoyable activities might either prevent or delay the onset of depression.” This statement left me confused on how I felt about it because A. there is a delay being spoken about, so the depression/anxiety is technically already there. B. I grew up in that type of environment without parents suffering from these illness and I still came out with major depression and anxiety. This still leaves me with the question, where did it stem from? Is it simply a chemical imbalance, or is it linked within my family tree?

Other studies include a genetic link back to depression specifically in people of European decent (I am pretty much made up of all of Europe) so this is an interesting study as well, but I find it hard to believe when 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide.

So far, it seems like there is no real definitive answer as to whether depression and/or anxiety is genetic. What I do know is that majority of the studies I read were all updated or written this year which shows that depression and anxiety are finally getting the true attention they deserve and are becoming more widely accepted. For such a long time depression was viewed as a character flaw or weakness, but now we are finally classifying it as what it truly is, a disease.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think depression and anxiety are genetic? Or, do you think it’s based more upon exposure? Let me know in the comments. I would love to get a conversation regarding this topic going and learn about other peoples opinions and experiences.

Stay well, friends!