July 13, 2024

Is Depression Genetic ?

Is depression genetic – that’s the question many people who suffer from depression or have a family history of it want to know.  The answer is: yes.  There is a genetic link to depression in certain forms; however, that doesn’t mean that if you have a close relative with depression or a family history of depression that you will personally develop it.

The deeper questions and the ones that are much more personal in nature are:


  • Will we one day turn into our mothers (or fathers) as we age?
  • If we have kids and we have depression, will they one day grow up to be just like us?

The answers to those questions are more complex than just a simple yes or no answer. It depends on what type of depression it is, environmental and other factors.

Although it is normal to feel anxiety if someone you are related to has a serious form of depressive disorder and to worry every time you or your child becomes depressed, it is generally known and accepted that genetics isn’t the sole reason for depressive disorders.

Scientific Studies

According to two separate studies published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, research scientists have discovered the first solid evidence that variations in people’s genes can cause depression disorder.

Scientists believe that having a family member or close relative with bipolar disorder can increase a person’s chances of getting depression by as much as 40%. This does not mean that everyone with a family member or close relative with bipolar disorder will develop this medical condition. Other factors such as environment can also play a role.

Scientists continue to do gene sequencing to discover more specifics about how depression and genetics are linked.

Although scientists are not sure exactly how what role genetics plays in causing depression, months doctors and health care providers tend to believe that genetics plays a greater role in some types of depression more than others.

Bipolar Disorder

Although not definitive there to be strong evidence that there is a link between major depression and bipolar disorder if one comes from a family with a history of this condition. This link appears to be stronger if an individual has a close relative that is bipolar.

Bipolar disorders are a form of mental illness characterized by some of the following symptoms: mood swings (from major highs to major lows in the case of manic-depressive bipolar disorder) or the lows of a major depressive state (as in the case of depressive bipolar disorder.)  Click here for more bipolar disorder symptoms.

The good news is that most people with a close relative with this disorder just experience it in mild to moderate form if they experience it at all. Although they have times of depression, they still lead full, productive lives. Research studies show that only about 4% of people with a family history of this disorder actually develop it in its worst, most severe form.

Important Note

It is important to know that although genes may play a role in depression, it may not be the reason at all or at least the sole reason a person suffers from this condition.

Each person is different and unique and studies indicate that usually there is at least one if not several other issues that have an influence on the development of this disorder. It is important to eliminate other causes of depression before jumping to the conclusion that the depression is a result of genetics.

The studies show that the increased risk can be as high as 40% for developing depression if a family member has it but that also means that at least 60% of the reason for the depression is due to other factors.

Some of those factors include:

Environmental Factors

Clinical depression that lasts longer than two weeks can also be attributed to environmental factors. Some people who develop depression suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse or trauma particularly as a child. This has been shown to also be a major contributing factor in the development of this condition.

Other factors such as stress and a change of circumstance due to major life changes such as the loss of a loved one, work or financial issues can also play a part in this condition developing.

Physical Factors

There may also be physical reasons why a person develops depression that is not included genetics or environmental factors.


  • Menopause. A woman who is going through menopause or perimenopause is more susceptible to depression.
  • Certain prescription medications. People who take certain Dr. prescribed medication higher risk of developing depression than those who do not. The most commonly prescribed medicine that causes depression are: high blood pressure medication, birth control pills, Accutane, hormone therapy and certain non-smoking medications.
  • depression may occur for seemingly no reason at all due to their genetic predisposition to it.

The Serotonin link

Studies have shown that a person can be genetically predisposed to having a chemical imbalance in their brain that leaves them with lower than normal serotonin levels.  Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, has a direct impact on a person’s emotions, thoughts and behavior.  Serotonin, when present at the proper levels in the brain, provides an overall feeling of well being.  Those who have low levels of serotonin, thanks to genetics, are more likely to be impacted by some form of depression in their lives.

is depression geneticLearn your history

In the same way a person asks questions of their parents about what physical conditions run in their family, they should do the same regarding any mental illness.  The earlier a person is able to find out what conditions they are predisposed to, the earlier they can begin taking steps toward prevention so they don’t have to be impacted by a disease despite their family history.

Steps to Prevent Depression

There are some things one might begin doing in the hopes of preventing depression from actually becoming a reality.  For example:

Exercise – Thirty minutes per day of moderate exercise is said to be a great way to naturally boost serotonin levels in the brain and keep the mood balanced.

Omega 3 fatty acids – The omega 3 oils found in fish, like salmon, and in vegetarian sources, like flax seed, is also said to be a natural booster of serotonin when consumed.

Healthy Lifestyle – Alcohol, drugs and poor diet choices can all serve to increase the likelihood of depression.  Adopting a healthy lifestyle decreases the risk of depression.


Genetics can play a role in depression however it is not the only reason.  A person with a family history of depression is not doomed to become bipolar and if he does become bipolar there is a much greater likelihood he will experience a mild to moderate form of the illness and not the worst case scenario of the disorder. There are other risk factors and non-genetic factors that could be the reason for the depression that research shows plays a bigger role than genetics.

Although having a close relative or family history of depression does increase a person’s chances of developing a major depressive disorder it is not preordained. Even if the disorder does develop there is treatment available that can help or lessen its affects in all but a very small percentage of people with depression disorder.

It is important to contact your doctor or health care professional if you suspect you have depression.


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