Is depression genetic?

Maybe your mother had it. Or your uncle or your sister. Watching a family member suffer from depression can be difficult. But does that mean that you also will get the condition?

Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is the most common form of depression. The Stanford School of Medicine 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 as likely to develop it.

Research has explored the possibility of a connection between genes and depression. Is depression hereditary, or are other factors involved?

A 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 that as many as 40 percent of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental and other factors make up the other 60 percent.

Research 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 may also be a factor. One study found that women had a 42 percent chance of hereditary depression, while men had only a 29 percent chance.

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 genetic connection.

If you or a loved one has depression, you might wonder whether the condition is curable. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer here. Just as depression itself is complex, so is the timeline.

You might notice a variation in your own family members who have depression. Some might experience temporary clinical depression and take medications for up to 12 months. For others, depression is a lifelong battle in which symptoms peak from time to time. In these cases, cognitive (behavioral) therapy is viable long-term option that can help you manage your symptoms and improve quality of life.

Depression can be treated. The key is to be aware of your symptoms and notify your doctor if you don’t think your current treatment plan is working. It’s also important to be aware of any symptoms that come back after you experience any form of remission.

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 factors.

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.