Does Depression Run in Families?

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Depression is one of the most common psychological problems at present. The Stanford University School of Medicine estimated that 10% of Americans will experience depression at some point in their lives. And others pointed out that the probability to develop depression within a lifetime is up to 18%.


When people entered a psychology center, the doctor may ask: Does anyone of your family have similar symptoms? Why did the doctor ask such a question? She/he was considering the possibility of inheritance.



Depression is highly familial


“Depression is highly familial,” says Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at Columbia University.


Multiple studies suggested that a child would face two-or-three times the risks of developing depression among first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, and offspring), compared to children without a depressed relative. Moreover, children at high risk often have anxiety problems when they are young.


How does inheritance work? It is the combination of both genes and environments.



Genes contribute 40% risk to depression


Scientists discovered solid evidence of the cause of depression.


A British research team isolated a gene that may be related to depression, and the experiment has been replicated by another team from the US. Both studies were published in the journal  American Journal of Psychiatry. They both reported a strong link between depression and genetic variations in a region called chromosome 3p25-26. It is believed that genes contribute 40% risk to develope depression.



Environment matters more


But the gene is just a part of the picture. Scientists believed that environments play a more important role in developing depression.


“The risks passed from parent to child aren’t primarily in the biology realm. They are in the social realm.” Michael D. Yapko, a clinical psychologist who has written lectures worldwide on depression, said so.



Children inherit patterns from parents


One is more than the sum of the genes. Children not only inherited genes from their parents but also inherited the patterns. They learn thinking patterns from their parents, ways of treating and solving problems, and fears or hope for the future.


What matters is how the child learned to deal with these stressors.



Stressful families contribute to depression


Depression is more likely to occur in homes full of pressure. Perfectionist families, invalidating families, and violent families all contribute to depression. Children of a depressed family usually receive less care and attention and more criticism. Sometimes people do not even recognize these detriments.


The hardest part for depressed parents is that they do not know how to treat their children properly. Yapko says, “You can’t teach what you don’t know, and if you cope with stress by getting drunk and passing out, you can’t teach your kid how to deal with stress in a healthy way.”


The inheritance of depression is based on many factors. Compared to genes, growth environments play a more significant role in the progress. Fighting with depression is difficult, it is better for people who have depression to seek professional support from psychiatrists.


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