Can I inherit a mental illness
Can I inherit a mental health condition
If you live with a mental illness, it’s understandable that you’d want to know its origins, including whether you may have inherited it. But the answer to whether mental illness is genetic is a complicated one.
ResearchTrusted Source has found that mental illness likely has a genetic component, but that mental illness is most probably caused by a combination of genetic and environmental components. What’s more, certain mental health disordersTrusted Source — such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression — are more closely tied to genetics than other disorders.
Studies looking at the connections between genetics and mental illness are ongoing, and there’s still much to be learned. Here’s what we know so far about genetics and mental illness, as well as how to get the help you need to feel more like yourself again, should you be diagnosed with a mental illness.
What the research says
According to research analysis from the National Institute of Mental HealthTrusted Source (NIH), mental illness is usually caused by a combination of four main factors:
At this time, there are no genetic testsTrusted Source you can take to determine if you carry a gene that would make you more likely to develop a particular mental illness, though studies around this issue are ongoing. Instead, you can look to your genetic risk of developing a mental illness.
For example, if one or several close members of your family live with a particular mental illness, your risk increasesTrusted Source. However, having an increased risk
doesn’t mean you will develop that mental illness. Your inherited genetics only play a part in the development of a mental illness.
There are, however, certain mental and behavioral conditions that are more likely to have a genetic component, according to the NIH. These include
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
As the NIH notesTrusted Source, several genetic factors are found across all five of these disorders, including
CACNA1C and CACNB2 (genes that regulate the activity of calcium on neurons). Besides these, researchers found that people with all five disorders had variations in chromosomes 3 and 10, though it’s still unclear how these genetic
variations influence disease progression.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the mental illnesses that may have a genetic component, and what to know
about how genes influence these disorders.
The genetics of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings that alternate between mania (or hypomania) and depression. It affects 2.6% of American adultsTrusted Source, which amounts to about 5.7 million people.
Research about the genetic origins of bipolar disorder is incomplete but ongoing. However, it’s clear that bipolar disorder runs in families. The risk is highest if you have a first-degree relative who has the disorder, such as a parent or sibling. Some people who have first-degree relatives with bipolar disorder will be more likely to develop the disorder than others, and many people with first-degree relatives who have bipolar disorder will not develop it at all.
A 2014 study published in The Application of Clinical GeneticsTrusted Source found a connection between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the development of bipolar disorder. However, SNPs are common genetic variations, and most people who have them don’t have bipolar disorder. The study team contends that more research is needed to understand the association between SNPs and bipolar disorder.
The genetics of depression
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses; it affects approximately 350 million people
approximately 350 million people around the worldTrusted Source, and about 16.9% of AmericansTrusted Source. Depression is more than feeling down or sad. It involves severe feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and agitation. Depression can make it difficult to work or maintain social connections; and increases your risk of suicide ideation and suicide attempts.
Most experts have observed that depression runs in families, and people who experience depression may notice that a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, also experiences depression. Studies involving twins have found a 37% rate of inheritance for depressionTrusted Source.
The full genetic
components of depression are still being studied and aren’t well understood yet. Some of the genes that are thought to be involved in the development of depression are genes that regulate neurotransmitters. For example, some studies have focused on the serotonin transporter geneTrusted Source, as it’s known that serotonin plays a role in depression. But exactly what that role is, is not yet fully understood.
The genetics of anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting about 20%Trusted Source of us at one point or another in our lifetime. Anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme feelings of fear that can be incapacitating and make it difficult to function. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including:
Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, with both environmental and genetic susceptibilities thought to contribute to the development of these disorders.
Studies on twins and close family members have found that genetics play a role at a rate of 30-50%Trusted Source.
Similar to depression, the genes that influence the development of anxiety aren’t fullyunderstood. Genetic association studies have found links between anxiety and certain genes, including 5-HTT, 5-HT1A, BDNF, and MAOATrusted Source. But it’s not clear what these associations mean and how they interact with other contributing aspects, such as environmental factors, childhood trauma, and life stress.
The genetics of schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that typically emerges in late childhood to early adulthood and is defined by psychosis. People with schizophrenia experience delusions, have difficulty concentrating, and may exhibit antisocial behavior. Approximately 1% of people experience schizophrenia.
There are some strong links between having a family member with schizophrenia and going on to develop it. If you have a close family member with schizophrenia,
your chances of developing it increase from 1% to 10%. If both your parents have it, your risk increases to 50%. Of course, not everyone with a close family member who has schizophrenia will develop it.
The genetic components of schizophrenia are still being studied and researchers don’t have a complete picture at this time. One theory is that a microdeletion in chromosome 22
(22q11) may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
Other risk factors for mental illness
Again, genetics is just one aspect that may make you more likely to develop a particular mental illness. Experts agreeTrusted Source that genetics alone aren’t the only causes of mental illness. Here are some other contributing factors:
life stressors, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or losing a job
childhood trauma and abuse
dealing with chronic medical conditions
chemical imbalances in the brain
drug and alcohol abuse
being isolated from others and experiencing loneliness
When to seek care
It’s always a good idea to seek help for your mental health if your gut tells you something is wrong. If you have distressing emotional or behavioral symptoms, and this has been going on for at least 2 weeks, this is a sign that you need care.
Additionally, if you’re finding that you’re unable to sleep, eat, partake in activities you used to enjoy, or function at work or school, it’s time to reach out for help.
Important note! If
you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm — or if someone you care for is — this is considered an
emergency, and you should seek prompt help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (available 24/7 and free/confidential) at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255). You can also text “HELLO” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.
Treatment options for mental illness
Treatment for mental illnesses depends on the type that you’re experiencing. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help diagnose the mental illness you’re living with, and come up with a plan of treatment
for you. Different types of therapies treat different mental illnesses; the most important thing is to find a therapist you feel comfortable and safe with and who takes your concerns seriously.
Besides therapy, medicationTrusted Source can be helpful — and in many cases, necessary — when it comes to managing mental illness.
For some people, medication may only be needed sometimes, or for a limited period. Other people will need to be on some form of medication for mental illness for the duration of their lives. There should be no shame in taking medication for
mental illness for the duration of their lives. There should be no shame in taking medication for mental illness: it can be life-saving for many people.
Finally, lifestyle changesTrusted Source — when combined with needed medication and therapy — can be vital for people who live with mental illness. This may include
making sure to get enough sleep, eating regularly, healthy exercise and body movement, and incorporating mindfulness and meditation.
While there are certainly links between genetics and mental illness, there’s still a lot we don’t know. This can be frustrating if you’re looking for answers to a mental illness you experience, or are wondering if you might develop a mental illness that seems to run in your family.
Experts today believe there likely is a genetic component to most mental illnesses, even as research continues to uncover more information. But remember that just because a mental illness runs in your family, it doesn’t mean you will inherit it.
If you become diagnosed with a mental illness, there are many treatment options out there for you, and it’s possible to live a full and balanced life.
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