Is Depression Inherited? Nature vs Nurture In Explaining Mental Illness

by Debra on October 19, 2011

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you probably want to know where it came from. For some people, the answers are obvious: they’re dealing with a loss, a trauma, an illness, a major life change, or some other form of intense stress. For others, the reasons for becoming depressed are less clear. They may not appear to have any problems at all aside from the depression.

While most researchers accept the theory that depression is a disease of the brain, they have not yet been able to isolate a gene, or a group of genes, that causes it. They have established that if you have a close relative (mother, father, sibling) who has been diagnosed with depression, you are more vulnerable to becoming depressed. This genetic link is especially clear if your depression is caused by bipolar disorder (once known as manic-depression).

Nature vs. Nurture. Of course, there is always the question of whether depressive behaviors are learned or inherited. If you were raised by a severely depressed parent, for instance, you might not know appropriate ways to meet the challenges of daily living. If you are overwhelmed, it makes sense that you would copy some of the ”comfort” behaviors your parent might have used, like staying in bed all day.

Twin Studies. To address these questions, researchers studied identical twins who, of course, have the same DNA. They found that, among twins raised together, if one twin was diagnosed with depression, the other twin had a 76 percent chance of developing depression as well. If the twins had been raised apart, however, the non-depressed twin had a 67 percent chance of developing the disorder.   

Those numbers, of course, are not perfect correlations, but they are high enough to suggest that genetics play some part in the development of depression.

Some researchers are advancing the argument that what is actually inherited isn’t a specific depression gene, but rather several genes that lay the groundwork for a tendency to become depressed. Depression itself does not occur unless or until something in the environment sparks it.

So, the answer to the question, “Is depression inherited?” is yes…and no. For more information on understanding depression and its causes, visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and review their user-friendly booklet about depression.

What should you do if you have depression? Family doctors often prescribe medication. Another approach is to seek therapy from a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker, though many people find it hard to fit weekly visit’s to the therapist’s office into their schedules. At National Stress Clinic, you can easily find an online therapist from our team of professionals who is qualified, licensed and insured. Our clinicians specialize in offering therapy using web video, so you can get help at the time and place that suits you best.

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Georgina June 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I honestly think that Depression is inherited. Especially Post-natal depression, my mum had it when she had me, her mum had it when she had my mum and even my grandmothers mother had it too when my grandmother was born.