If you or a loved one is living with a mental illness, you may have questions about its genetic factors and whether or not your preexisting condition could be passed down to your children.
To help you expand your understanding of mental health and how it can affect family members and future generations, we’ve created a comprehensive Q&A to address some common questions.
Q: Are Mental Health Conditions Genetic?
A: Yes, but it’s important to understand that mental health conditions develop from both genetic and environmental factors. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, if members of your family have a certain psychiatric disorder, for example Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); depression; bipolar disorder; or schizophrenia, you have a higher chance of inheriting the same mental health condition. The academy goes on to clarify that although mental illnesses can be passed down to children, they will not follow a traditional pattern of inheritance. What this means is that you may inherit a milder case of depression, while your sibling or cousin has a more severe case.
Q: Will I Inherit My Parent’s Mental Illness?
A: Though you have a higher chance of inheriting a mental illness if a preexisting condition is part of your family’s genetic makeup, the outcome is not certain ( Psychology Today). Mental illness is not the result of a single gene but of numerous genes that interact with each other in a particular way (BBC News Magazine). In fact, even if you have no history of mental illness in your family, you may still exhibit certain behaviors that are associated with a particular psychiatric disorder, especially if you experience a traumatic event or have engaged in substance abuse.
Q: What Signs or Symptoms Should I Be Aware Of?
As with every aspect of your health and wellness, it’s important to understand the early signs of a mental health condition, so you can recognize its symptoms and seek professional medical treatment. According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms may include:
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Longer periods of depression
- Changes in eating habits or sleeping patterns
- Experiencing hallucinations or illogical thinking
- Chronic anxiety or nervousness
- Social withdrawal
It’s estimated that around 50% of these symptoms will begin at the age of 14 and 75% will develop at the age of 24 (APA). If you or a loved one is experiencing any or a combination of these symptoms, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional to discuss your symptoms, receive an accurate diagnosis, and learn which treatment or therapy plans can set you on a path to achieving healthy balance–mentally, physically, and emotionally.