Is Depression Hereditary?


At any one point in time, more than 18 million people in the U.S. are suffering from depression, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center. Depression is a biological illness with a strong hereditary link but having a relative with depression by no means guarantees that an individual will also develop depression.

Having a family member with depression increases your risk, but does not mean you will become depressed.
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According to Peter Kramer in “Against Depression,” research findings across cultures and decades show that depression is 35 to 40 percent heritable overall. When only severe or persistent cases are considered, rates reach 50 percent or more.

Depression and resilience to depression tend to run in families.
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The National Coalition for Health Professional Information in Genetics states that having an identical twin with major depressive disorder places an individual’s risk at around 40 percent. For fraternal twins, the average risk is 11 percent.

Identical twins have an increased risk of depression.
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First-degree relatives (parents, children and siblings) of a person with depression have a 5 to 30 percent risk of developing the condition themselves.

Depression is more likely among family members.
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If a condition is entirely hereditary and one identical twin has it the other twin will as well since they share the same genetics. However, no mental illness shows 100 percent concordance between identical twins, meaning that other factors also play a role, according to Kramer.

Depression comes from a variety of factors: biological and environmental.
Image by, courtesy of Sergei Golyshev

Environmental influences contribute to heritability rates. Family dynamics, child-rearing methods and levels of prenatal stress can run in families as well as biological factors.

Many environmental factors can be inherited.
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Having a family member with depression can severely impact your life. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers family support and education groups.

Help and support are available for family members of people suffering with depression.
Image by, courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt

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