Maybe your mother had it. Or your uncle or your sister. Watching a family member experience depression can be difficult. But does it mean that you’ll also have 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 who has a relative with depression is almost five times as likely to develop it compared to someone who doesn’t have a relative with depression.
Research has explored the potential connection between genes and depression. Is depression hereditary, or are other factors involved?
A British research team 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 may make up the other 60 percent.
A person who grows up with someone with depression may be more susceptible to the condition. A child who watches a depressed parent or sibling may learn to mimic that person’s behavior under certain conditions. For example, 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.
Serotonin levels and depression have also been linked. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical that allows communication between brain neurons.
It’s 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 connection.
If you or a loved one has depression, you might wonder whether the condition is curable. But there’s no clear-cut answer here. Just as depression itself is complex, so is its 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 experience in which symptoms peak from time to time. In these cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is a viable long-term option that can help you manage your symptoms and improve quality of life.
Other forms of therapy, like psychodynamic therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, can also be used to help treat depression.
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 there’s no single gene that puts someone at risk for depression. It’s 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 experiences depression be worried? The answer: not necessarily.
Situational depression is often only temporary and brought on by major life events. Other types of depression can be lifelong. In any case, there are many treatments that can help you manage in everyday life. Talk with your doctor or other healthcare professional to explore treatment options.