Is Depression Genetic? Can Depression “Run in the Family”?

Many people who are diagnosed with depressive disorder also have a family history of depression. This often leads to the question “is depression genetic”? Others may even wonder if there is a depression gene? Living with a loved one who has depression can be difficult and confusing. It may also cause you to contemplate whether you will develop this condition?

If you’re struggling with depressive symptoms and you’ve been asking yourself “is depression hereditary,” this article will explore the genetic factors of depression as well as useful treatment approaches for this condition.

Is Depression Genetic or Environmental?

A common mental health question people tend to ask themselves is whether depression is genetic or environmental? The most appropriate answer is that both factors can influence the onset of depression [1]. For people with major depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, heredity is linked to about 40% of the cases [2]. However, this percentage increases to about 70% for twins with recurrent and severe major depression [3]. The remaining percentage of individuals diagnosed with depression generally experience environmental factors that cause their depressive symptoms [1],[2].

This means that while symptoms of depression may be triggered by a traumatic or life-changing event, some people are more susceptible to experiencing this condition due to a genetic predisposition. Growing up with someone who suffered from depression (e.g., parent, sibling) may also cause individuals to mimic such behaviors during adolescence or adulthood, as they may believe the reactions they observed from their loved one were coping mechanisms during times of distress. Researchers also suggest that a combination of genetic factors may predispose some people to this condition [1],[2].

According to Dr. Griffith of Dr. TMS therapy Griffith psychiatry, “Depression certainly can be genetically based. In treating depressed patients every now and then a patient comes along who has everything going for them in life. Their life is full of positives—they possess impressive and positive personal attributes and an amiable personality, they are successful and accomplished, and they are surrounded by family and friends who are supportive and positive–yet they still struggle with depression. A patient like this who has a stress-free life and is surrounded by a supportive environment, will almost always have in their family psychiatric history “several blips on the radar screen”. This means that within their family tree is significant evidence of family members with psychiatric issues. This type of depression is “genetic depression” and patients like this need to know that it is not their fault, they did nothing to bring it on, and that this issue is inherited from their gene pool. Their battle is a genetic battle. I tell them that we are like computer systems and we inherit our “hardware” from our gene pool. It is also important to know that despite having good “software” (personality and coping skills), and a strong “network” (a nurturing environment), it is still possible to get depression genetically.”

Is the Depression Gene Real?

Questions regarding whether depression is genetic or environmental led to studies that explored the role genes may play in the development of mental health problems. One particular study involving over 800 families with a history of recurrent depression showed that certain genes may contribute to the onset of this disorder [2].

Genes are found in chromosomes and interestingly, a significant link between chromosome 3 and severe depression was observed for the families who participated in the study [2]. A weaker association between depression and other chromosomes was also observed, but chromosome 3 had the strongest influence on the presence of depression. These findings led researchers to believe that several different genes that make up chromosomes play a role in an individual’s susceptibility to depression.

It is hard to pinpoint how many genes are involved with the onset of depression, just as it is difficult to determine exactly what type of major events may trigger depressive symptoms for some people. What is important, is recognizing the signs of depression early on and taking the necessary steps to address it in a positive manner.

Dr. Griffith also explains that, “Some individuals have a pristine family tree that is free of psychiatric issues, but the gene pool went awry in a solitary fashion and now they are afflicted with a disorder. Or the opposite situation can exist in which an individual’s family tree may be densely populated with a multitude of horrendous psychiatric issues, but the person may never experience mental health problems. Another scenario is a family tree with several members who have bipolar disorder and/or substance abuse surrounding an individual, but that person only suffers from a mild anxiety disorder or mild depression. This means that psychiatric issues can change over time as the gene pool evolves and the symptoms may get milder, become more severe, or manifest in various ways. Your relatives may have had a significant history of bipolar disorder or major depression, but maybe your mood disorder is just mild depression.”

Is Bipolar Depression Genetic?

Similar to major depression, people often wonder “is bipolar depression genetic”? Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by episodes of depression and mania that disrupt an individual’s way of life [4]. According to research, heredity has a strong influence on the development of bipolar disorder as genetic factors account for 60-80% of the diagnosed cases [5].

Additional studies suggest that if one parent is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a child’s risk of developing this disorder is over 10%, while the risk increases to almost 50% if both of the child’s parents have bipolar disorder [4],[5],[6]. These findings indicate that bipolar disorder is one of the most common psychiatric disorders that can be inherited from family.

Is Postpartum Depression Genetic?

There are a number of studies that provide evidence of a link between genetics and the onset of postpartum depression – which refers to depression following childbirth [7],[8]. In particular, the detection of two specific genes helps predict whether a pregnant woman may develop postpartum depression [7]. The genes can be detected in the blood during pregnancy and if they are discovered, this information can foretell the onset of depression after giving birth – providing women with an opportunity to seek intervention before their symptoms become debilitating.

Mental health professionals also recommend that women with a family history of postpartum depression consider taking this simple type of blood test. This is especially important for women whose mothers, grandmothers, or sisters suffered from postpartum depression as this increases the chances of experiencing the same condition.

Can you Get Genetic Testing for Depression?

As research consistently shows that some people are more susceptible to certain mental health problems – including depression – due to genetic factors, genetic testing is an option that may be considered. However, the results may not be very helpful because the exact genes that are linked to depression are still unclear [2].

Genetic testing is often recommended when it is known that one or both parents have a disorder (e.g., bipolar disorder) that could be potentially debilitating for a child who develops the same condition later on in life [5]. There are also genetic tests that can help determine how genes may affect a person’s response to psychiatric and depression medication such as antidepressants. It is best to speak with a mental health professional for recommendations regarding assessment and treatment for depression.

So, to summarize – does Depression “Run in the Family”?

For people who are wondering “does depression run in families”? The answer is, a family history or depression increases the risk of developing this condition, but does not always mean that each family member will definitely experience this disorder [1],[2].

According to Dr. Myrna Weissman, PhD, professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at Columbia University, when a parent is diagnosed with depression, a child has a three times higher risk of experiencing depressive symptoms than a child whose parent does not have this disorder. Weissman further explains that if the parent developed depression before the age of 20, the child’s risk increases four- to fivefold.

This means that if you have a close relative (e.g., parent, sibling) with depression, it is important to be aware of the potential risk this poses for your mental health, but you don’t have to assume that you will be diagnosed with this issue or struggle with lifelong symptoms of depression. If you are dealing with frustrating symptoms or you have been diagnosed with this condition, there are a number of beneficial treatment approaches that help many individuals improve their quality of life. Read on to learn more about useful suggestions that have proven beneficial and may increase your chances of remission.

What Can You Do about Genetic Depression?

If you have a family history of depression, seeking professional assistance at the first sign of symptoms is a key preventive measure for major depressive disorder. However, if you have already been diagnosed with depression in its early stages, timely treatment and understanding how other family members addressed this mental health issue can indicate:

  • The most appropriate treatment approach for you
  • How you may respond to a certain type of treatment
  • Which treatments may not impact your mental health status

Speaking with a mental health professional is also an optimal way to learn about your options, while trying to decide which form a treatment may work best for you. The experts at Dr. TMS Therapy Psychiatry provide a variety of services to best meet your needs such as counseling and psychotherapy, medication management, and TMS therapy.

  • Counseling/Psychotherapy – Counseling is a form of short-term therapy that focuses on addressing mild to moderate symptoms of depression and behavior by discussing the underlying causes. Telehealth counseling is also available.
  • Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is a long-term mental health treatment approach with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. There are different categories of psychotherapy that include: cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy.
  • Medication Management – This management approach entails a comprehensive medication assessment (medication reconciliation), medical monitoring of prescriptions, and guidance that helps individuals achieve their desired outcomes.
  • TMS Therapy – Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive, FDA approved treatment for depression. This therapeutic approach is a great option for people who are not responding to standardized treatments for depression (e.g., antidepressant, talk therapy) [9].

TMS treatment is a medication-free procedure that involves electromagnetic stimulation of the brain with magnetic pulses that excite nerve cells in a targeted brain area. Many people with depression who have received TMS therapy – including those who received treatment in our clinic – report that they experienced [10] [11]:

  • Significant symptom improvement or complete remission
  • Enhance cognitive function (e.g., focus, memory, mood control)
  • Minimal to no side effects

Dr. Griffith mentions that, “If your depression is solely genetic–because you personally have good “software” and your environment is a strong, supportive “network”–then it is important to understand that depression may revisit you from time to time. Try to find a treatment modality that works best for you and understand that you may need to use it from time to time when depression shows up. If your depression is a mixture of genetic depression in combination with software issues, then work on identifying your triggers and improving your coping skills by attending counseling (psychotherapy) to get your software tuned up. Maybe your depression is genetically based, but there might also be “network” issues of an unhealthy marriage or job situation that can make matters worse. Therefore, try to make alterations in your environment to reduce stress.”

If you’d like to learn more about any of the services outlined above contact Dr. TMS Therapy Griffith Psychiatry today.

Contact our clinic if you want to learn more about depression treatment options.

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Walter G. Griffith Jr., MD, PA


Dr. Griffith earned his Undergraduate Degree from Notre Dame University and his Medical Degree from Ohio State University’s College of Medicine. He then completed his Residency in Psychiatry at Ohio’s prestigious Cleveland Clinic, and ultimately became the Chief Resident at the Cleveland Clinic in his final year of residency. After completing his residency, Dr. Griffith moved with his family to sunny Florida in 1992, where he worked at several hospitals in the early days of his career, but, ultimately, he decided to start his own outpatient Psychiatric Private Practice in Florida, where he has been working and growing the practice over the last three decades. Dr. Griffith is the Medical Director for the medical practice and oversees all of the medical clinicians who work in the practice in order to help manage the growing patient caseload at both of the medical office locations.

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