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Depression

Children inheriting mental illness

11/20/2009

Question:

If mental illness (depression, "cutter") runs in my family, how likely that my children will inherit this trait?

Answer:

Since "mental illness" is an extremely complicated phenomenon, you can rest assured that it cannot be passed along in a single (or even a few genes). And most mental illness is only partially inherited, requiring some environmental factors (trauma, substance abuse, chronic stress) to make the illness express itself. For depression the best studies of the genetic contribution to risk for depression in the offspring of a parent with depression suggest that genes account for about 40 % of the chance of developing the disorder. That means that there's a lot that families and individuals can do to minimize the risk of developing the disorder that runs in the family. Prevention begins with a good three-generation family tree, reviewed by your family doctor or a mental health professional. From a pattern of multi-generational illness you may be able to identify what you or your children are most at risk for. Then comes the task of choosing prevention strategies, also best guided by a mental health professional. Best wishes for a worthy project.

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Response by:

Lawson  Wulsin, MD Lawson Wulsin, MD
Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, Training Director of the Family Medicine Psychiatry Residency Program
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati