Healthy Living

Understanding the Causes of Depression: Is Depression Hereditary?

Is Depression Hereditary? Understanding the Causes of Depression

Key Takeaways

  • To identify depression as the cause of a person’s behavior, the signs must be present for most part of the day, and continuously for at least 2 weeks.
  • A person with a relative who has depression is two to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the average person, that is, 20% to 30% instead of 10%.
  • There are a variety of factors that can contribute to depression. Genetics alone does not determine it, and your outlook towards life matters a lot.

While researchers are becoming increasingly aware that depression can be genetic, there is a need to shed more light on this issue because it is often misinterpreted. Is depression hereditary? Many people have the misconception that they will necessarily develop depression if their parents or any of their relatives had depression at some point in their lives. In reality, this is not entirely true, although one does need to be extra-conscious when the problem is genetic.

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What is Depression?

Feeling depressed is a very common reaction to certain events or circumstances in life. All of us feel depressed at some point or other in our lives, but some people react to depression very strongly. When negative feelings like sadness, rejection, and hopelessness last for too long, it is termed as depression. The feeling may become so intense and pervasive that it begins to impact a person’s ability for normal everyday functioning and becomes more than your run-of-the-mill sadness or feeling down.

Identifying depression

One of the biggest worries when it comes to depression is that people may be going through depression, but it is often difficult to identify the signs. People suffering from severe depression may appear normal on the outside, but have bottled-up feelings eating them up emotionally inside. These silent bouts of depression can be very dangerous for the person suffering it and for people around them. You can identify depression in a person if any five or more of the following occur for at least two weeks or more:

  • A feeling of sadness for most of the day, especially when one wakes up in the morning;
  • Feeling tired or drained for the entire or better part of the day, which results in the lack of enthusiasm to do any work;
  • Feeling guilty or useless every day for no particular reason;
  • Being unable to make any decisions and an inability to concentrate and focus on any task;
  • Lack of sleep or insomnia, and in some cases, sleeping the entire day or hypersomnia;
  • Zero level of interest to take up any activity the entire day;
  • Suicidal thoughts and a tendency to inflict self-harm;
  • A complete sense of restlessness or lack of the urge to do anything or complete a job;
  • Sudden loss or gain in body weight;

One of the major signs of depression is completely losing interest in things that one once greatly enjoyed. To identify depression as the cause of a person’s behavior, the signs must be present for most part of the day, and continuously for at least 2 weeks. Apart from the duration, the symptoms should be causing clinical implications on the person’s health that could cause him to be unable to carry out even everyday functions and activities smoothly. The symptoms should not be a result of other factors like drug abuse, alcohol addiction, substance abuse, an effect of medication, and hormonal imbalance as in the case of hypothyroidism.

Is Depression Genetic or Environmental?

There are several factors that lead to depression. The genetic and environmental factors are two of them.

Genetic Factor: According to the Stanford School of Medicine (SSM), 10% of Americans experience clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, at some point in their lives, and this is the type most likely to be shared by children and siblings. A person with a relative who has depression is two to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the average person, that is, 20% to 30% instead of 10%.

Many scientists are still researching on this topic to confirm its relevance and discover the reasons behind this genetic link. In fact, a British research team recently isolated a gene that seems to be common in multiple family members with depression. The researchers identified a common chromosome 3p25-26 in 839 families with recurrent major depression. Scientists believe that as much as 40% of cases of depression can be traced to a genetic link.

Environmental Factor: A person who grows up with someone suffering from depression may also be more vulnerable to the disorder. A child who grows up with a depressed parent or sibling may learn to imitate that person’s behavior under certain conditions. Gender may also be a factor. According to a study, women have a 42% chance of hereditary depression, while men have only a 29% probability of developing this mental disorder.

If depression is common in your family, does it guarantee that you’ll have it at some point too?

The answer is, "Not necessarily!" Although research has shown that people with parents or siblings suffering from depression are up to three times more prone to having the condition, it doesn’t guarantee the occurrence. So even if one of your parents has suffered from depression at some point in his or her life, it doesn’t mean that you are going to have it too. It does increase your risk, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will also suffer it.

As said earlier, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to depression. Genetics alone does not determine it, and your outlook towards life matters a lot. It’s your thought process, not your genes, that determines whether you become depressed or not.

Reducing the Risk of Depression

Whether depression is genetic or environmental, you can always combat it by bringing some changes into your mindset. The simplest way to stay out of a depressed state is by improving your thinking and maintaining an optimistic attitude. Life has never been easy for anyone, but it’s how you deal with the problems. Some just fall prey to this psychological illness, while others keep their calm and find solutions to their problems. By creating a healthy mindset and positive relationships, you can manage your stress and relieve the symptoms of depression to a great extent. Once you learn to conquer your bad thoughts and feelings, you learn to survive even during the worst times.

Lifestyle and Coping With Depression

Whatever may be the cause of depression in yourself or a loved one, what is important is its effective management, so as to help yourself or them lead a life as normal as possible. Treating depression requires a lot more than just taking medication or undergoing therapy. There are also several lifestyle changes required to ensure that a person leads a happy and healthy life. These lifestyle changes are meant to instill a sense of positivity in the life of someone dealing with depression, in turn promoting a healthy mind and body.

Here are some important lifestyle changes that can help one get the most out of treatment. Before adopting any of these changes, it is best to get the opinion of one's doctor.

  • Healthy Eating: Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is crucial for your body and helps in balancing your moods overall. The most effective way to improve your diet is to eliminate junk food, which makes the body and mind sluggish. Avoid all forms of refined sugar and incorporate healthy fats, which are essential for the healthy functioning of the body. Include a number of fatty acids, carbohydrates, and amino acids in your diet. All of these help in regulating the moods of a person, thereby helping him or her deal with depression better.
  • Exercise: Exercise is the best way to promote the brain's production of more happy enzymes, which are very important in fighting depression. Exercise is the body’s way of producing antidepressants and promotes a healthy life overall. In fact, studies show that 30 minutes of exercise can help one overcome depression without any medication.
  • Lose Weight: Excessive weight gain is one of the key reasons people get depressed, as excessive weight can directly have a negative impact on one’s self esteem and overall health and well-being. To lose weight, going on fad diets is not the way to go. Rather, a healthy diet and moderate exercise, helps in losing weight and keeping it off. A lower calorie count and increased amount of exercise will bring results more quickly. The more one becomes health-conscious and works toward a healthy body weight, the more one gets his or her mind off depressive thoughts and feelings.
  • Meditation: Yoga and meditation are known to greatly help in overcoming symptoms of depression. Meditation is a mental exercise that engages the brain in a very positive manner. Breathing, which is an important part of meditation, helps the mind and body focus on positive thinking, thereby freeing the mind from all sorts of negative feelings and emotions. Meditation can really go a long way in relieving anxiety, which often comes with depression. Meditation and deep breathing also help one sleep better, which in turn helps one fight depression symptoms.
  • Sleep: One of the biggest complications of depression is the inability to sleep well. Fatigue due to lack of sleep can lead to the worsening of depression symptoms. It is important for people suffering from depression to develop a positive and calming sleep routine that helps them sleep and rest their bodies and minds.