Is Depression Genetic?
your mother had it. Or your uncle or your sister. Watching a family member
suffer from depression can be difficult. But does that mean you also will
suffer from the condition?
also known as major depressive disorder, is the most common form of depression.
The Stanford School of
(SSM) estimates that 10 percent of Americans will experience this type of depression
at some point in their lives. This type is also more likely to be shared by
siblings and children. A person with a relative who suffers from depression is almost
five times more likely to develop depression as well.
Still, research has
explored the possibility of a connection between genes and depression. Is
depression hereditary, or are other factors involved?
The Depression Gene
British research team recently isolated a gene that appears to be prevalent in
multiple family members with depression. The chromosome 3p25-26 was found in
more than 800 families with recurrent depression. Scientists believe as much as
40 percent of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental
and other factors make up the other 60 percent.
has also shown that people with parents or siblings who have depression are up
to three times more likely to have the condition. This can be due to heredity
or environmental factors that have a strong influence.
A person who grows up
with someone with depression may be more susceptible to the disease. A child
who watches a depressed parent or sibling may learn to mimic that person’s
behavior under certain conditions. A child who sees a parent spend days in bed
may not think it unusual. Gender also may be a factor. One study found that women had
a 42 percent chance of hereditary depression, while men had only a 29 percent
The Serotonin Link
Researchers have also
linked serotonin to depression. Serotonin is the “feel-good” chemical that
allows communication between brain neurons. It is possible that an imbalance in
serotonin can lead to mood disorders and other issues such as obsessive-compulsive
disorder and panic attacks.
There are many
theories about the serotonin-depression link. Researchers continue to study
serotonin as the key to the genetic link. Problems with the serotonin
transporter gene have also been considered as a source for depression. Research
has traced the presence of long and short transporter genes to a possible
Many researchers believe
it is not a singular gene that puts someone at risk for mental illness. It is
more likely a combination of genes that lead to the disorder. The causes of bipolar
disorder and anxiety disorders may also be traced to a combination of genetic
The question remains: should someone whose
parent or sibling suffers from depression be worried? The answer: not
necessarily. Situational depression is often only temporary. It is brought on
by major life events, and treatment is available. It is certainly something to
watch out for, but not something to worry about.