Genetics And Depression: Are Some People At Risk More Than Others?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 08/08/2022

Is it true some people are more susceptible to depression than others because of genetics? The concept continues to be studied with various factors potentially behind depression, including genetics. The idea of genetics contributing to depression is more complicated because it varies from person to person. Overall, a person may have genetic factors that could make them vulnerable to developing depression than another person with different genetic makeup. Genes may be one factor, but also trauma or environment could contribute to the development of depression.

What Is Depression?

It is a mood disorder that includes feelings of persistent sadness and mood changes that affect how a person lives. Depression affects people differently. It interferes with work, family, relationships, and even influence preexisting or chronic health concerns. Conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease could worsen due to depressive symptoms. It is common to feel down or sad sometimes, but when it lasts for a prolonged period accompanied by feeling hopeless, it could be depression. Symptoms could worsen if not recognized and treated early.

People with depression experience mood changes such as irritability, aggression, and restlessness. Emotionally, they often feel sad or empty. They lose interest in enjoyable activities like hobbies and socializing. Some engage in high-risk activities like substance use. Depressive symptoms also include difficulty concentrating and completing tasks, lack of sleep or sleeping too much, and changes to their physical wellbeing, such as having more aches, pains, and fatigue.

Men, women, and children may experience symptoms differently depending on age, genetics, and environment. Most people with depression may isolate themselves from others when they don’t want to be bothered. Children with depression may get in trouble often or perform poorly in school.

Is Genetics Really Behind Depression?

Researchers continue to learn more about how genes play a role in certain medical conditions like depression. Since there are different types of depression, some research is geared toward understanding which type is more prevalent.  One study found evidence a person could be three times more likely to receive a depression diagnosis if an immediate family member was diagnosed. While some are curious to learn if a depression gene exists, there’s evidence of a chromosome found during group research that could be linked to severe depression.

While studies are ongoing to understand why depression occurs, in some cases, depression may appear without a family history. Many studies conducted about depression include learning the family history of any mental health concerns to know if a person is more susceptible if the condition occurred in the family’s history. It is possible genes could play a role in developing depression, but some research suggests additional factors along with genes increase the risk.

Heredity and genes are different components that could have clues, but it is more complex to understand. Heredity and genes help us understand the probability of a person having certain physical features like eye or hair color based on family history. It is unclear if the same components can help us learn in advance if someone will develop depression.

Depression Treatment And Genetics

If genetics play a role in developing depression, will they also help us learn if someone is more likely to respond to treatment? Depression is treatable with options, including medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Studies suggest a person’s genetic profile could influence how you respond to treatment. For example, there is research the explores how the body breaks down medication used for depression. The analysis helps us understand metabolism levels in the body and how they could contribute to how the body responds to treatment. It is a different aspect of genetic testing.

People are familiar with clinical trials conducted to learn how well people respond to a treatment option before being available to the masses. Before reaching this point, researchers and doctors know about different drugs and conduct tests on how they influence metabolism in the body. The results help researchers and doctors understand how specific symptoms may benefit from the medication. Usually, such details are more beneficial for doctors and researchers, but consumers can ask about genetic testing to see if a particular treatment option is better for you.

Can Children Get Depression From Their Parents?

What about depression and genetics when it comes to children? If either parent has a history of depression, they may wonder if their child is at risk. Some adult children with depression may assume they got from their parents if they recall someone living with a mental health concern. Genes could be a factor, but it is not the only component.

In some cases, a child could have a genetic profile that includes a heritable element related to depression, but they may not become depressed. For others, it could be triggered by the environment or an event like trauma. If a child doesn’t have genetic components or have a family history, their depression could be triggered by trauma. Studies have shown that a child is susceptible to growing up with someone in their household with depression.

Parents with depression should talk to their children about their mental health. It helps to be open and honest about what you are going through to help children understand how the condition affects their family. If parents have concerns about their children developing depression or any other mental health concern, get advice from your child’s doctor.

What Else Causes Depression?

The concept of genetics causing depression is not the only possible cause being explored. Other factors may contribute to depression, along with the development of other mental health concerns. Knowing possible causes helps you understand how depression affects you. It also gives insight on potential treatment options most likely to produce results. Keep in mind; depression may not have a direct cause.

Chemistry in the brain may lead to symptoms when a person has lower levels of hormones produced. Also known as neurotransmitters, they affect your mood and overall health. Sometimes they may not perform as well as they should, resulting in mood changes. Studies also look at brain structure and found the brain shape and structure of a depressed individual is different from people not experiencing depression.

Hormone levels of someone susceptible to depression could be higher or lower than average triggering symptoms. Conditions that affect hormone levels like a thyroid disorder can also alter levels. Someone dealing with high levels of stress stemming from trauma or stressful circumstances may develop depression.

How Is Depression Diagnosed And Treated?

There is not a depression test that says whether a person has depression. Your medical professional will ask questions about your symptoms and understand how they affect your daily living to determine a diagnosis. It is essential, to be honest about how symptoms affect your life. Your medical professional may ask about your appetite, sleep schedule, level of activity you engage in daily, your mood, thoughts, and more. Medical professionals will want to rule out conditions so they may order blood work and conduct a physical examination.

There are different types of depression, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar depression. Treatment options will vary based on symptoms and personal goals. Treatment for depression includes medications such as antianxiety and antidepressants, psychotherapy where you work with a therapist, and even light therapy, which has proven useful for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Alternative options others have used include mediation, fish oil, herb supplements, and acupuncture.

Is There A Cure For Depression?

Researchers continue to learn more about depression and how it affects the body. While a cure doesn’t exist, more research is needed to understand how genetics could play a role in understanding how some antidepressants could be used for treatment. Deciding on treatment for depression is a significant step toward feeling better. It may take time for symptoms to improve, so be patient. You may need to make changes to your treatment plan and consider combining therapy, medication, and self-help techniques.

Some may have questions or concerns about depression treatment, including those with a family history of the condition. Treatment depends on symptoms and how long they last. Some people have symptoms for months, years, or the rest of their lives. Assessing your options carefully makes a difference in finding solutions to provide long-term support to help manage symptoms and improve your wellbeing.

Whether you have a family history of the condition, it is treatable. Be aware of your symptoms and how they affect your livelihood. Maintain communication with your doctor about your treatment plan and be mindful of returning symptoms that could signal a relapse.

As more research gets completed, we gain more understanding of depression and how it affects the body. A genetic profile of depression may include different elements that give an idea if a person develops depression. Understanding and recognizing depression symptoms is crucial to addressing the condition sooner than later. Conducting further research on the genetic and environmental aspects brings us closer to developing more effective ways to treat depression with a hopeful outcome well into the future.