If you live with a mental illness, it’s understandable that you’d want to know its origins, including whether you may have inherited it. But the answer to whether mental illness is genetic is a complicated one.
Studies looking at the connections between genetics and mental illness are ongoing, and there’s still much to be learned. Here’s what we know so far about genetics and mental illness, as well as how to get the help you need to feel more like yourself again, should you be diagnosed with a mental illness.
According to research analysis from the
- environmental factors
- psychological factors
At this time, there are
For example, if one or several close members of your family live with a particular mental illness,
There are, however, certain mental and behavioral conditions that are more likely to have a genetic component, according to the NIH.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the mental illnesses that may have a genetic component, and what to know about how genes influence these disorders.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings that alternate between mania (or hypomania) and depression. It affects
Research about the genetic origins of bipolar disorder is incomplete but ongoing. However, it’s clear that bipolar disorder runs in families. The risk is highest if you have a first-degree relative who has the disorder, such as a parent or sibling. Some people who have first-degree relatives with bipolar disorder will be more likely to develop the disorder than others, and many people with first-degree relatives who have bipolar disorder will not develop it at all.
A 2014 study published in
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses; it affects approximately
Most experts have observed that depression runs in families, and people who experience depression may notice that a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, also experiences depression. Studies involving twins have found a
The full genetic components of depression are still being studied and aren’t well understood yet. Some of the genes that are thought to be involved in the development of depression are genes that regulate neurotransmitters. For example, some studies have focused on the
Anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses,
Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, with both environmental and genetic susceptibilities thought to contribute to the development of these disorders. Studies on twins and close family members have found that genetics play a role at a rate of
Similar to depression, the genes that influence the development of anxiety aren’t fully understood. Genetic association studies have found links between anxiety and certain genes, including
Schizophrenia is a mental illness that typically emerges in late childhood to early adulthood and is defined by psychosis. People with schizophrenia experience hallucinations, delusions, have difficulty concentrating, and may exhibit antisocial behavior. Approximately 1% of people experience schizophrenia.
There are some strong links between having a family member with schizophrenia and going on to develop it. If you have a close family member with schizophrenia, your chances of developing it increase from 1% to 10%. If both your parents have it, your risk increases to 50%. Of course, not everyone with a close family member who has schizophrenia will develop it.
The genetic components of schizophrenia are still being studied and researchers don’t have a complete picture at this time. One theory is that a microdeletion in chromosome 22 (22q11) may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.
Again, genetics is just one aspect that may make you more likely to develop a particular mental illness.
- life stressors, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or losing a job
- childhood trauma and abuse
- dealing with chronic medical conditions
- chemical imbalances in the brain
- drug and alcohol abuse
- being isolated from others and experiencing loneliness
When to seek care
It’s always a good idea to seek help for your mental health if your gut tells you something is wrong. If you have distressing emotional or behavioral symptoms, and this has been going on for at least 2 weeks, this is a sign that you need care.
Additionally, if you’re finding that you’re unable to sleep, eat, partake in activities you used to enjoy, or function at work or school, it’s time to reach out for help.
Important note! If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm — or if someone you care for is — this is considered an emergency, and you should seek prompt help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (available 24/7 and free/confidential) at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255). You can also text “HELLO” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.
Treatment for mental illnesses depends on the type that you’re experiencing. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help diagnose the mental illness you’re living with, and come up with a plan of treatment for you. Different types of therapies treat different mental illnesses; the most important thing is to find a therapist you feel comfortable and safe with and who takes your concerns seriously.
For some people, medication may only be needed sometimes, or for a limited period. Other people will need to be on some form of medication for mental illness for the duration of their lives. There should be no shame in taking medication for mental illness: it can be life-saving for many people.
While there are certainly links between genetics and mental illness, there’s still a lot we don’t know. This can be frustrating if you’re looking for answers to a mental illness you experience, or are wondering if you might develop a mental illness that seems to run in your family.
Experts today believe there likely is a genetic component to most mental illnesses, even as research continues to uncover more information. But remember that just because a mental illness runs in your family, it doesn’t mean you will inherit it.
If you become diagnosed with a mental illness, there are many treatment options out there for you, and it’s possible to live a full and balanced life.