From red-haired curls to big blue eyes, certain characteristics run in families. But not every inherited trait is as harmless as hair color. Some families struggle with a darker legacy: depression. People who live with this disorder aren’t just blue; they often feel hopeless, helpless, and, in the most serious cases, suicidal. The symptoms of depression are profound enough that even simple, everyday tasks become difficult. But does depression really run in families? And if it does, can you do anything to prevent it? Let’s take a closer look at these two questions and their subsequent answers:
Like so many disorders, the role of heredity in the development of depression is not clear-cut. We do know that having a parent, sibling, or child with depression increases your chance of developing it. For example, one study examined several generations of families who had survived a devastating earthquake in Armenia. Researchers discovered that about 60% of depressive episodes experienced after the event had a genetic link. This study suggests that our DNA plays at least some role in raising the risk for depression. Scientists are just beginning to uncover the reasons behind that link. A study published in the journal Neuron revealed that one specific gene, SLC6A15, may factor into determining which people are at an increased risk of depression. Their work suggests that when this specific gene is shortened, it alters the brain’s ability to carry chemical messages. The modified gene may also harm the integrity of neurons, which are specialized nerve cells. Researchers are hopeful this type of genetic finding will lead to targeted antidepressants in the next 10 to 15 years.  Recent mental health research also suggests that people living with depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus a structure in the brain than those who don’t live with the disorder. The hippocampus plays an important role in memory, learning, and emotion. What experts don’t know yet, however, is whether having a smaller hippocampus triggers depression, or whether the higher levels of stress hormones in depressed people shrinks that part of the brain.  What is clear is that depression is a complex mental disorder that will only be fully understood with the help of ongoing research.
Not necessarily. The link between psychiatric disorders and genetics is apparent in some cases, but there are many non-genetic factors that are believed to also play a role in whether or not someone develops depression. Other risk factors for clinical depression may include:
Depression often stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain, so there are no surefire ways to prevent it. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk and help keep it at bay. Lifestyles changes can play an important role in both reducing symptoms when they do occur, as well as helping to prevent episodes altogether. In general, you can make yourself more resilient to depression by reducing stress and creating a healthy mindset. Following are some practical tips:
Depression does run in families. However, by being proactive you can reduce your risk of developing the disorder or at least keep symptoms to a minimum if they do occur. It’s never too soon to start managing your stress and building a foundation for good mental health.
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