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Is Depression Genetic?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 3 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Genetics Depression Lifestyle Healthy

Part of obtaining effective treatment for depression involves understanding and identifying the causes of depression. One important consideration is whether or not depression has a genetic basis. Your genes determine various things about you such as eye and hair colour but they also influence which medical conditions you may be more susceptible to during your life. Questions that researchers are asking include:

  • To what extent is depression more likely to occur if other family members suffer from it?
  • Can depression be prevented if there is a genetic basis for it?
  • How do genetics influence lifestyle factors for depression?

Twin Studies

Recent research supports the idea that there is indeed a familial genetic link for depression. When one identical twin suffers from depression the other twin has a fifty percent or higher chance of also suffering from it. With fraternal twins the likelihood of another twin suffering from depression or a mood disorder is about twenty percent. Even amongst adopted individuals, research suggests that depression is still more common with adopted children whose biological family members have suffered from depression.

Is There A Depression Gene?

One area of research into depression has involved an attempt to locate specific genes that can lead to depression and its symptoms. Various studies have identified single genes that may relate to depression but these are still both inconsistent and inconclusive. It does still appear that certain genes lead to depression within some families, but not others. It appears unlikely that it is one single gene that directly causes depression but rather, a group of genes that together predispose a person to depressive illness. One gene that has been isolated is 5-HTT and it helps to regulate a neurotransmitter known as serotonin.

There is a long form of the gene as well as a short form. A person may inherit two copies of the long form, two of the short, or alternately, one of each. The short form of 5-HTT is not as effective in regulating serotonin as the long form. Research has found that adults who have the short form of the 5-HTT gene are more likely to experience depression when coupled with traumatic events versus adults who carried the long form of 5-HTT.

Lifestyle and Traumatic Events

At the same time, just because a person inherits a gene that increases susceptibility to depression, does not necessarily mean that he or she will definitely develop a depressive illness. The genetics of depression indicate that it is more likely a person's genes that, when coupled with areas such as lifestyle and traumatic events, predispose someone to depression. Therefore, you should focus on the things you can change right now and consider making lifestyle adjustments to handle stress.

You can keep abreast of new developments regarding research into genetics and depression, but you should still look after yourself and try to seek support as needed, rather than letting distressing events escalate. If you have suffered from a recent traumatic event, obtaining early treatment can help you if you already have a genetic predisposition to depression. Genetics are only one part of the story, and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and obtaining psychological support as soon as you need it, you can help to prevent the symptoms of depression.

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