I remember using this quote by Rita Mae Brown in one of my articles on mental illnesses, which said, “The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you.” And now that I am writing on the relationship between heredity and mental illnesses, it makes me think if it would be right to say that “if three of your past generations have mental illnesses, you could be the next one, it’s in your genes.” The question to be asked is, if your family members, like your grandparents, parents, or other relatives have had mental illnesses in the past, would you have them as well? Are mental illnesses hereditary?
Well, the answer to the question is both a Yes, and a No! There are various types of mental illnesses and disorders, each being different from the other. The most common mental disorders include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism and other types of personality disorders.
There are various factors that put a person under the risk of developing these mental conditions during their lifetime. These factors include the social environment, brain injury, substance abuse and lack of prenatal care, and the list also includes hereditary factors! This means that there are chances that a person is likely to manifest a mental illness later on in life, if there is a family history of the same, although, there is no guarantee regarding the same.
Are Mental Illnesses Hereditary? What do Experts Say?
I knew someone who had a family history of depression. The father suffered from clinical depression and so did the aunt. The person that I am talking about, also suffered from depression and nervous breakdown. On the other hand, I have a friend who has had a family history of the same condition, but she, by God’s grace, is absolutely fit and fine, both mentally and physically. After knowing these two different people, both with the same problem of hereditary mental illness, I know for a fact that not all people tend to get affected with the condition irrespective of what the family history has to say!
Well, there is no doubt about the fact that genetics and family history have been one of the most evident causes of mental illnesses, but the point to be noted is that “this is not always the case”! The body has more than 100,000 genes in the genome and only half of them tend to affect the central nervous system.
Another point to be noted is that when a person with a family history of a mental disorder raises a family, only 50% of their genes are transferred to the baby, the rest 50% being the genes of the other partner. This means that genetically, a person having a genetic background of mental illness, like depression, is only under 50% risk of developing the same. It is up to you if you look at it as ‘the glass is half empty, or the glass is half full’!
The best way to put this is that family history or genetic factors do not make a person mentally ill, they only make a person more vulnerable towards the condition. Now, it also depends upon the other factors including social environment, physical health and lifestyle. If you know that there is a family history about the same, try to take preventive measures like meditation, exercising, avoiding substance abuse and indulging in other activities that help in dealing with stress.
Though life is uncertain and any event of life can trigger the illness, the best we can do is to take caution and care. Now you must be thinking that preventive measures won’t work, but research states that it does! A study was done on two identical twins who were raised in completely different environment and it was observed that social environment and childhood care play a very important role in developing the symptoms of mental illnesses. Avoid the triggers and you will avoid the condition.
I hope that this write-up helped you in understanding the simple fact that not all mental illnesses are hereditary, although they do keep you in the risk zone. Same is the case with diabetes. It is not necessary that if your parent has diabetes, so will you, but yes, you are more likely to have it as compared to others who don’t have a family history of the same. So now, do you still think that mental illnesses are hereditary?