Is Depression Caused by Genetics or Environment?
Author: Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center Editor
According to a study entitled “A Swedish National Twin Study of Lifetime Major Depression”, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, major depression arises equally from both genetic factors and child rearing experiences. The study sought to uncover evidence that supports major depression is gained from genetics, whether genetic influences in major depression are more important in women than in men, and whether genetic risk factors are the same in the two sexes. The study was performed by interviewing 42,161 twins, including 15,493 complete pairs, from the national Swedish Twin Registry.
In a follow up study, “Sources of Parent-Offspring Resemblance for Major Depression in a National Swedish Extended Adoption Study”, the researchers sought to clarify the relative importance of genetic and childrearing effects on the development of major depression. They examined parents and children from five different family types to look for factors such as depression from genes and childrearing, genes-only, and child rearing-only associations.
These studies were helpful in understanding the genetic component to depression as scientists look at patterns of illness in families to estimate their “heritability”. The studies allowed researchers to work with twins to make the observations. According to Mark Gold, MD, the studies concluded that yes, major depression is influenced by genetics and environment.
Depression and Genetics
You’ve heard the phrase, “It runs in the family”, when it comes to certain familial attributes such as height, habits, or personality traits. The same is true for health conditions and mental illness such as depression. Researchers have studied the reasons why a person develops depression, and why perhaps another sibling does not. The conclusion is that there is no one gene from one parent that causes it but rather many different genes that likely contribute to the risk of developing depression.
Each sibling can inherit genetic variants from their parents. This is why one might have blue eyes and the other brown. Or one might be tall and another short, for example. It is no different for depression or any other mental illness.
So no one simply inherits a “depression gene” from mom or dad. Each person inherits a unique combination of genes from their mom and dad and certain combinations can predispose them to depression.
Depression and Environment
The way we are raised can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders. Difficult life challenges, such as abuse, the loss of a parent, or poor health can run in families and predispose individuals to depression. Being exposed to a depressed loved one can also make one more susceptible to the disease.
Our daily experiences can affect our mood and emotions. Take for example, a child who’s faced stressful situations like bullying or academic pressure. Or an adult who’s just lost their job or spouse. Environmental stressors coupled with the hereditary gene are a recipe for depression.
Is Depression Curable?
Thankfully, depression is treatable through medication, therapy and lifestyle adjustments. But just like many chronic diseases that require lifelong management, depression may also require you to stay in tune with yourself and learn coping techniques for when you experience a down day. Many people turn to self-medication with drugs and alcohol to deal with the sad feelings but this is just creating a bigger problem. The best way to address depression is to deal with it head on. At Atlanta Addiction Recovery Center, we know how to help those who are experiencing mental illness and substance use disorder. Don’t let depression take control of your life.