Is Depression Inherited?
I always thought my depression might be inherited because both my parents have experienced it. But we all shared the same house, town, financial situation, and social network when I was growing up, so I wondered if it was more a product of our environment than our genes. As it turns out, both are correct. Experts think depression is about 50 percent inherited and 50 percent other factors.1
How Depression Is Inherited
These 178 genes play a wide variety of roles in the brain. Some are involved in the growth and maintenance of nerve cells; others produce chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help nerve cells communicate with each other. Some control synaptic plasticity or the ability of synapses (connections between nerve cells) to adapt to stimuli. All of these contribute to the overall biochemical balance in the brain, which helps shape a person’s mental health.3
The Odds of Inheriting Depression
Does this mean that if you have a family member living with depression, you’re destined to experience it too? Because the genetics of depression are so complicated, the answer is: not necessarily. Scientists estimate that having a parent or sibling with major depressive disorder doubles or triples your risk of developing depression,1 but there are many non-genetic risk factors as well.
Traumatic or stressful life events like violence, abuse, or the loss of a loved one can increase your risk of depression. Substance abuse and other mental illnesses can also play a role. Environmental factors like social relationships and financial circumstances can shape depression, and other mental health conditions, in complex ways.3
As a result, there’s no way to determine if you will experience depression, when it will happen, or whether it will recur. This can add to the burden of coping with depression, because you may never understand where it came from. Even if you inherit depression from your parents, your symptoms may be very different from theirs—and treatments that helped them may not work for you.
On the other hand, looking at depression this way can offer some comfort—because it’s not your fault. When experiencing depression and other mental illnesses, it’s easy to wonder if there’s something wrong with you or if you somehow caused your disease. But, as with physical illnesses, depression is the result of a complex combination of factors, both inherited and otherwise.
- Levinson, D. and Nichols, W. Major Depression and Genetics. Stanford Medicine. https://med.stanford.edu/depressiongenetics/mddandgenes.html
- Hathaway, B. Roots of major depression revealed in all their genetic complexity. (2021, June 16). YaleNews. https://news.yale.edu/2021/05/27/roots-major-depression-revealed-all-their-genetic-complexity
- Depression. (2018, April 1). MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/depression/#causes
Craft, R. (2023, June 14). Is Depression Inherited?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2023/6/is-depression-inherited