What does my family health history have to do with depression?

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Studies have shown that genetic makeup plays a role in the etiology of depression, but no study has indicated that depression is solely based on a person's genes. Family, twin and adoption studies have indicated that genetic factors are involved in the development of mood disorders (affective disorders). Potential genetic markers (that is, specific traits present on the genes) have been identified on specific chromosomes. Some of these markers are directly linked to neurobiological processes, believed to be related to the occurrence of major depression.

The neurotransmitters involved in these neurobiological processes are chemical substances that transmit or block impulses among the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. Norepinephrine and serotonin have been the most widely studied neurotransmitters in depression research. These may be thought of as up, or excitatory, neurotransmitters. Studies of the effects of antidepressant medications used to treat depression suggest that depression is characterized by low levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine. Depletion of up neurotransmitters is associated with feeling down and depressed.

There is evidence that genetic factors exist that contribute to one's propensity to develop major depression and other psychiatric disorders. It is likely that it takes a multitude of minor genetic variations, combined with environmental influences, to trigger a response such as depression.

Deborah Davis, DNP
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

A family history of depression is the strongest risk factor for depression. That doesn't mean that everybody gets depressed. Some people escape it and sometimes you see depression where there is no famiy history. But if you look at it overall, a family history of depression is a very strong predictor of depression in an individual.

Dr. Tarique D. Perera, MD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)
Some forms of depression are hereditary, and scientists are identifying the genes associated with depression. In this video, Tarique Perera, MD, a psychiatrist with Contemporary Care of Connecticut, discusses family history and depression.
If depression or other mental disorders run in your family, you face a higher risk of developing depression. To diagnose depression, your doctor or mental health provider will ask you questions about the mental health history of your family members. However, depression can occur even with no family history of the illness.

Continue Learning about Depression Causes & Risks

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.