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is depression hereditary
October 21, 2021

Is Depression Hereditary?

“It runs in the family” is a comment frequently made about physical appearance, health conditions, or habits. Often “it” does, but why? If a parent drinks heavily and suffers from clinical depression, and their children grow up to develop the same problems, was it hereditary — or did the children learn these things from their parents?

Depression is Multifactorial – Not Just Hereditary

The question, “Is depression [or any other illness] hereditary?” has no simple yes-or-no answer. It’s true that genes can predispose a person to depression: someone whose parent or sibling has depression is two to five times as likely to develop the disorder, and there are cases of depression affecting nearly everyone in a bloodline. It’s also true that:

  • Many people grow up in households where one or both parents battle depression, yet never develop the problem themselves.
  • Depression can develop in people with no known family history of the disorder.
  • Depression is not a matter of “all cases the same”: you may “inherit” depression and still exhibit very different symptoms from other family members who have it. (Also, a single individual often has depression that “comes and goes,” and/or has symptoms of varying intensity at different stages of life.)

Most life patterns are about 50 percent genetic/hereditary, and 50 percent due to environment, circumstances, and other external factors—including individual decisions. So where the real question is, “Am I predestined to develop depression because my parents and grandparents had it?” the answer is nearly always, “No.” And the first rule of not developing depression is to let go of any ideas that you’re inevitably doomed to it.

If Depression Runs in Your Family

As with any hereditary problem, it does pay to take extra precautions if others in your family have depression.

  • Take special care of your physical health. Poor diet and sleep deprivation increase depression risk.
  • Minimize stress by maintaining a priority-based, uncluttered schedule and by leaving time for hobbies and exercise.
  • Associate with people who are positive and optimistic—but also empathetic and encouraging. (Friends who react to low moods with “snap out of it” do more harm than good.)
  • If you’re in a situation with built-in risks of triggering depression—pregnancy, bereavement, major life transition—consider getting therapy to address the possibility.
  • Depression and addiction frequently co-occur, so take medication only in strict compliance with prescriptions, and watch your alcohol intake (or avoid drinking completely). Never take any chemical substance just to “feel better.”
  • Watch your media intake as well: bad news, social media, andpassive entertainment are all known to correlate with depression risk.
  • If you do have a depression episode, don’t give up: get therapy and treatment. Once the immediate problem is dealt with, make a relapse-prevention plan with the help of your therapist.

Finally, recognize that even if you never develop depression, it will affect you if someone else in your household has it. If a family member is being treated, join them in therapy and find out how you can best support them.

If You’re a Parent with Depression

If you’re already battling depression and you have young children, it’s natural to be concerned that they’ll inherit it—and to wonder what effects your struggle is having on them right now. The concern is legitimate, but beware: excessive worry will only make things worse.

Get therapy for your whole family. Consider having your children periodically evaluated so any developing depression can be caught and treated immediately. If there’s any risk your illness will become disabling, make plans to ensure your children’s physical and emotional needs will be met.

Above all, help your children understand that it isn’t their fault, you still love them, and there’s hope for their future. Depression tendencies may be hereditary, but ongoing major depression doesn’t have to be.

Healing from Hereditary Depression and Drug Addiction

Medical depression and chemical addiction frequently go together—and if you have a “dual diagnosis,” you’ll need a medical center that treats both illnesses together. Beach House offers co-occurring-disorder treatment that includes psychiatric evaluation, customized treatment plans, and family therapy. Contact us today for a free consultation with our admissions counselors.

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