Depression is a mental health disorder that can affect individuals from all walks of life. No matter what your connection with the illness may be. The fact is that depression doesn’t discriminate and anyone can be at risk.
Specialists of the mind have delved into numerous discussions revolving around depression’s hereditary tendencies, and much research confirms that there is some genetic link. While depression can be caused by genetics, it is also impacted by other conditions such as environmental conditions, major life events and lifestyle factors. While it is a complex condition, it’s clear that genetics plays a critical role in the disease. If you or a family member are exhibiting signs of depression, the cause may be genetics but it may also be one of the factors explained below.
What is Depression?
Unlike a physical illness, depression is not something that is easily visible to the common eye. Yet, the impact depression has on the mind can be colossal, colouring the way one feels, thinks and acts.
Due to its prolonged effects (symptoms must last two weeks or longer for a diagnosis), it involves more than just experiencing temporary feelings of sadness or grief. You know that you have depression or on the verge of it when you:
- Experience a loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Recognize changes in appetite — weight loss or gain
- Start to lose energy during the day or bouts of increased fatigue
- Experience feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Have difficulty sleeping, or are sleeping too much
If left untreated, the worst-case scenario has deadly consequences. Professional help should be sought before thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide start to enter into the picture.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder is the most common form of depression.
Causes of Depression
There is some evidence to suggest that depression runs in families. In fact, if you have a relative with depression, your risk of depression is much higher than someone without a family history of depression. According to Stanford Medicine, someone who has a parent or a sibling with major depression, has two to three times greater risk of developing depression compared to the average person. Because the mind is deeply impressionable, witnessing a close friend or loved one battling depression in your younger years can leave a mark, which can make you more susceptible too.
A 2016 study in JAMA Psychiatry examined the risk of 62 families across three generations. Their findings showed that young people with a depressed parent were twice as likely to develop the illness, and those with both a depressed parent and a depressed grandparent had a threefold risk of major depression. In addition, studies of identical twins (who share 100% of their genes) and non-identical or fraternal twins (who share about half of their genes) indicate that there is a strong possibility that genes account for somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the risk of depression.
Depression differs from other disorders, in that it is multigenic. That means that there are multiple genes influencing your mood and how you respond to stress. Which is why depression looks different for every person and why it becomes difficult to simply pinpoint the genetic causes of depression.
So, if your grandmother was diagnosed with depression, does that automatically mean you will get it too? There are no simple answers to this, but it’s important to note that there are several additional key factors that play a role in depression:
- Biochemistry:There are millions, if not billions, of chemical reactions that make up the system responsible for your mood, perceptions and how you experience life. When looking into the intricate biology of depression, researchers have identified genes that make individuals more vulnerable to lower moods. Faulty mood regulation by the brain —caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters — can also be a factor.
- Major Life Events: Every major event we experience in our lives, has the potential to shape us either for better or worse. Some common life events linked to depression can include losing a job, buying a house, getting a divorce, or the death of a loved one. While sadness is a normal part of the grieving process, grieving symptoms that last longer than two months are a cause for concern. People who were neglected or abused as a child or have a history of trauma also have a higher risk for depression.
- Environmental Factors: Anything present in one’s surrounding environment—air, water and food pollution — can all contribute to depression. According to mentalhelp.net, some individuals believe that environmental pollutants can have hazardous effects on our mental health.
- Lifestyle Factors: A poor diet, a lack of sunlight, and substance abuse are all lifestyle-related factors that can contribute to the cause of depression. Becoming more conscious of the typical habits you are forming during the day can be useful in ensuring that you decrease your risk your chances of getting depression.
The Role of Genes with Depression
Further research on the subject has suggested that there may be specific genes that cause clinical depression to reveal itself in certain individuals and not with others. These numerous genes acting together may cause a person to become more vulnerable to depression.
Researchers have also linked serotonin to depression. Serotonin is a chemical that is produced by your nerve cells. Due to its strong connection with your emotions, it can act as an natural mood stabilizer. An imbalance can lead to mood disorders and other issues such as mood-compulsive disorders and panic attacks.
Understanding the role genetics plays in depression, is valuable when it comes to prevention, getting a proper diagnosis, and treatment.Regardless of what your family history may reveal, being predisposed to the illness does not determine that you will experience depression.
If you have already received a diagnosis of depression, don’t take that to mean the end of the road for you. Depression can be treated. Being aware of your symptoms and making sure to get the help you need, are all critical steps to recovery. It is possible to attain a strong quality of life, in spite of the diagnosis.