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Can You Inherit a Mental Illness?

The possibility of developing a mental illness is something you might be concerned about if you have a family member who has one. Maybe you're worried that your kids will develop the same or another mental illness if you have one.

To put your mind at ease, most people with mental illnesses don't have relatives with the same problems. Still, there is some evidence that mental disorders can be inherited.

This is what the research shows.

Mental illness is usually caused by a combination of four main factors, according to research analysis from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH):

  • Biology

  • Genetics

  • Environmental factors

  • Psychological factors

As of today, there are no genetic tests available to determine if you carry the gene associated with a certain mental illness, although studies are ongoing in this area. If you want to understand your genetic risk for mental illness, you can look at your family history.

Having one or several close family members suffering from a mental illness increases your risk, for example. Even having an increased risk of developing a mental illness does not guarantee you will contract it or pass it on to your children. The genetics you inherit play only a small role in mental illness development.

According to the NIH, some mental and behavioral disorders are genetically influenced.

Among them are:

The NIH notes that each one of these five disorders is associated with several genetic factors, such as CACNA1C and CACNB2. Researchers also found variations on chromosomes 3 and 10 among people with all five disorders, although how they influence disease progression remains unclear.

The genetics of anxiety.

At some point in our lives, about 20% of us will suffer from anxiety. The symptoms of anxiety disorders can be overwhelming and incapacitating, making it difficult to function normally.

Anxiety disorders can take several forms, including:

  • Generalized anxiety

  • Panic disorder

  • PTSD

  • Phobias

There is a strong tendency for anxiety disorders to run in families, and both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to their development. Genetics plays a factor in 30-50% of cases involving twins and close relatives.

It is also unclear which genes influence anxiety development, just as it is with depression. Studies on genetic associations have linked anxiety to genes like 5-HTT, 5-HT1A, BDNF, and MAOA. The meaning of these associations is unclear, as is their interaction with other contributing factors, including childhood trauma, life stress, and environmental factors.

The genetics of depression.

Globally, depression affects over 350 million people, and in the United States, it affects about 16.9% of the population. Feeling down or sad is not the only sign of depression. Anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness are hallmarks of this disorder. As well as affecting your work and social life, depression can increase your risk of suicide ideation and attempt.

Depression runs in families, and people experiencing depression may notice that their parents or siblings suffer from depression as well. Twin studies have found that depression is inherited in 37% of cases.

Researchers are still studying the genetics of depression, and the full picture is not yet clear. In depression, gene regulators are thought to play an important role. Several studies have looked at the serotonin transporter gene since depression is known to be influenced by serotonin. This role has yet to be fully defined, however.

The genetics of bipolar disorder.

Mania (or hypomania) and depression alternate in extreme mood swings in bipolar disorder. Around 5.7 million Americans are affected by it, which is 2.6% of the adult population.

It is unknown what causes bipolar disorder, but research is ongoing to determine its genetic roots. Bipolar disorder appears to run in families, however. First-degree relatives, such as parents or siblings, are at highest risk for the disorder. There are certain people who will be more likely to develop bipolar disorder if they have a first-degree relative with the disorder, and there are many people who will not develop bipolar disorder if they have a first-degree relative with the disorder.

Bipolar disorder and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were linked in a 2014 study published in The Application of Clinical Genetics. Bipolar disorder is rarely caused by SNPs, which are common genetic variations. SNPs and bipolar disorder are believed to be associated with SNPs, but more research is necessary to understand this.

The genetics of schizophrenia.

An individual with schizophrenia develops psychosis between late childhood and early adulthood. A person with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations, delusions, have difficulty concentrating, and be antisocial. Schizophrenia affects under 1% of the population.

An individual with schizophrenia is much more likely to develop it if they have a family member with schizophrenia. The chances of developing schizophrenia increase from 1% to 10% if you have a close family member with schizophrenia. Having two parents with it increases your risk by 50%. At the same time, having a close relative with schizophrenia does not guarantee schizophrenia development.

At this time, researchers do not have a complete picture of schizophrenia's genetic components. There is a theory that schizophrenia may be linked to a microdeletion on chromosome 22 (22q11).

Factors that contribute to mental illness.

Multiple genetic and environmental factors contribute to most mental disorders. It is referred to as multifactorial inheritance. Several other common medical conditions are also multifactorial in nature, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and asthma.

Environmental factors.

Mental disorders can be caused by a variety of environmental factors, including:

  • Trauma. Mental disorders are more likely to develop when children are abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. Stressful living environments, lthe oss of a loved one, and natural disasters also play a significant role.

  • Emotional harm. It is also possible to suffer long-term emotional damage as a result of negative school experiences and bullying.

  • Substance abuse. In addition to substance use disorders and addiction, prenatal or childhood exposure to tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is associated with mental health problems.

It is not possible to cause mental disorders solely by environmental factors. It is also important to keep in mind that genetics also play a role in mental illness.

Genetic factors.

Mental disorders are caused by genetic factors such as:

  • Epigenetic regulation. It is possible that epigenetics may influence whether a person develops a mental disorder as a result of reacting to environmental factors. Throughout history, epigenetics has changed. In order for a mental disorder to develop, environmental factors and epigenetic regulation need to work together.

  • Genetic polymorphisms. Each of us is unique based on the changes in our DNA. There is no evidence that polymorphisms alone cause mental disorders. An individual may develop a mental disorder if one or more specific polymorphisms are combined with certain environmental factors.

  • Single gene changes: Very rare.

Mental illness treatment options.

Depending on the type of mental illness you have, you will need different treatments. In order to treat your mental illness, a psychologist or psychiatrist needs to diagnose it and come up with a treatment plan. There are different types of therapy that are used to treat different mental illnesses; finding a therapist who understands your concerns and feels comfortable and safe is the most important thing.

The use of medication, in addition to therapy, can help manage mental illness - and can be necessary in some cases.

A limited period of medication may be needed by some people only occasionally. Other people will require medication for the rest of their lives to treat their mental illness. In many cases, mental illness medication can save a person's life, so there is no reason to feel stigmatized about taking it.

The combination of lifestyle changes with medication and therapy can be crucial for people suffering from mental illnesses. This may include:

  • Mental and physical health are both improved by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Your mood can be improved by regular exercise. In addition, it can improve your self-esteem, relieve your stress, and improve your sleep quality.

  • According to the National Health Service, adults need between six and nine hours of sleep per night. Make sure you sleep at regular times.

  • Being mindful means paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, body, and surroundings. Mindfulness can improve mental well-being. In addition, it can give you a better understanding of the signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety.

  • Developing a new skill can improve mental well-being. Boosting your self-confidence, connecting with others, and feeling purposeful can all help you recover.

  • In order to maintain good mental health, it is important to maintain good relationships with other people. Having a connection with others can help build belonging and self-worth, offer emotional support, and help you talk about your feelings.


Biological and environmental factors are both involved in the development of mental disorders. A mental disorder cannot be caused by a single genetic switch.

Because of this, doctors cannot determine whether someone is likely to inherit a mental disorder or pass that disorder on to their children. In addition to genetics and environmental factors, mental disorders can be caused by a variety of underlying factors.

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