Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can be developed after a shocking or traumatic event or situation. PTSD affects millions of adults and adolescents in the United States every single year.

Research on PTSD suggests that there are genetic and hereditary factors that can increase the risk of developing the condition. According to studies, both genetic changes and intergenerational trauma may increase the risk that a person will develop PTSD.

Below, we’ll explore what the research says about genetic and hereditary risk factors for PTSD, including the role that intergenerational trauma can play in your PTSD risk and the steps you can take to start healing.

According to a wide pool of research, several factors can increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including both genetic and hereditary factors.

Genetic conditions can develop when there are changes present in your genes. A 2016 study suggests that variations in certain genes, such as those related to serotonin or the stress response, can make a person more susceptible to developing PTSD and other trauma-related disorders.

Hereditary conditions can develop when a parent genetically passes a condition down to their child. A 2014 review of studies suggests that genetic risk factors make up roughly 30% to 40% of the heritability, or inherited risk, of developing the condition.

Another possible reason that PTSD may have a hereditary risk is because of the specific trauma called “intergenerational trauma” — trauma that’s passed down from generation to generation.

When you experience traumatic events, whether historical or on a personal level, that trauma can have a ripple effect on future generations. Some of the possible causes of intergenerational trauma can include:

According to the American Psychological Association, these types of traumatic experiences can lead to intergenerational trauma in different ways.

One way that intergenerational trauma can develop is through direct transmission. Examples of direct transmission could be parents speaking about the trauma or children experiencing the economic or social effects of those traumatic experiences.

Research also suggests that genetic changes caused by these traumatic experiences may be passed down from parent to child, increasing the risk of PTSD and other mental health issues.

Intergenerational trauma can cast a wide net on families, affecting everyone from grandparents and parents to children and future grandchildren.

One review from 2017 explored the effect of intergenerational trauma on refugee families, including the effects on mental health and overall well-being in children.

Several studies included in the review found that children of people who have experienced trauma have higher prevalence rates of PTSD, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. Studies also found a relationship between parental trauma and parental emotional abuse and neglect.

Other possible effects of intergenerational trauma on families can include:

When you live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), healing your trauma is one thing, but healing PTSD that involves intergenerational trauma may feel like a different journey altogether.

One of the most important steps in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma is acknowledging and accepting the trauma. Whether you’re healing personal trauma handed down from your parents or racial or community-based trauma, acceptance is an essential step in healing.

Acceptance, while essential, is only one part of the equation, and breaking the cycle also means stepping away from or finding different responses to the causes of that cycle. Setting personal boundaries, communicating your needs, and seeking out social support or professional treatment may be important steps in healing.

At Healthline, we have a lot of resources for those on the road to recovery from PTSD:

You’re not alone

It’s not easy to heal intergenerational trauma, but there’s comfort in knowing that you don’t have to go through the process alone. If you’re looking for more resources to help you on the journey toward healing, here are a few to get you started:

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When families experience intergenerational trauma, it can have a serious effect on the overall mental health and well-being of those involved. In fact, research suggests that intergenerational trauma may play a larger role in the development of PTSD than we initially thought.

If you or a loved one has been experiencing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or another mental health condition, treatment can help. Consider reaching out to a doctor to discuss more about what options are available to you.