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Genetic Component?


Grovette

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What are your thoughts or experiences on depression being handed down from generation to generation?

I've been doing research on my family tree which was a great mystery for years because of adoptions, divorces and estrangement. What I'm learning is that both of my grandmothers (I never met either in person) had mental health issues, one grandfather committed suicide "due to knee pain", and many patterns could be found in previous generations that I'm also seeing today even though none of us had access to distant relatives - including more estrangement.

It's freaky - a relief in some ways - but freaky nonetheless.

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Hi Grovette,

My understanding is that the study of the genetics of depression has had mixed results. Nothing so far has settled the question to the satisfaction of all researchers.

There has been some research which has found structural differences in family member's brains in families with a history of depression. It appears to be a thinning of the right cortex, the outmost surface of the brain. Researchers are not sure if this thinning is a trait or a marker of vulnerability for unipolar depression. The interesting part of this research was that a thinning in the descendents of depressed parents and grandpartents was observed even if the individuals themselves never suffered an episode of unipolar depression. But the research did not appear to solve the nature/nurture questions.

Although unipolar depression showed up as a family trait, that doesn't necessarily mean that it is genetic. Perhaps it's a result of growing up in an environment where parents and grandparents are depressed. Another interesting part of the research is that actual depression seems to involve a thinning in the left hemisphere of the brain.

I lost a grandfather to depression so it will be interesting to see if the science finds evidence of a genetic link that will meet with broad consensus. It is my understanding that a genetic link has been made for bipolar depression and some other brain illnesses.

I had a rather brutal childhood and suspect my parents suffered from undiagnosed depression. But I don't know if their illness caused their brutality and then my depression or whether there is a genetic component or both. More tough questions than answers. I know some researchers think there is a genetic component and that it is just a matter of time until it is discovered. Of course all research is subject to the caveats of scientific research. I will be interested to see what other people here have to say.

Edited by Ep1ctetus
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Sorry your childhood was so tough Ep1ctetus. You seem to have come through it a compassionate and intelligent person somehow. Amazing.

I didn't want to risk passing any of this stuff - depression, anxiety, addiction - down so I didn't have children (and often wish my mother hadn't either, but here we are!). Must've sensed it even in my 20s even though I wasn't able to understand or articulate at the time.

My siblings seem threatened by my family research. They seem to believe I'm trying to find excuses for behaviors whereas I'm actually trying to understand myself and my family. I was hit hardest with the mood disorders, guess I'm just more motivated to answer the big questions than they are.

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I know genetics can play a role, but I don't know how much is in my ancestry. Some of my relatives had what was probably undiagnosed bipolar or schizo-related conditions, but if there was any straight depression (what I have), I've never heard about it. Not saying it's not there, my family tends to sweep the bad under the rug, but I couldn't say specifically for myself for sure. It's likely different for different people, this kind of thing is hard to pinpoint.

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Good point LilyRain, we can never really know what was going on with our ancestors. One of my great-grandmas was diagnosed with "dementia praecox" and died in an asylum - today this term translates to "schizophrenia". Other relatives sort of fell off the radar, who knows what happened to them back then because people weren't as forthcoming or knowledgable about diagnoses and behaviors. I love the mystery, but even more I love putting the pieces together to make sense of it all.

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Although there are indications that depression runs in families --- as Ep1ctetus points out it is difficult to tease out nature vs nurture. However twin and adoption studies, as well as the study on cortical thinning mentioned by Ep1ctetus provide some indication for some genetic component for a predisposition to depression.

However, as an article reviewing the genetics of depression states:

"Despite all efforts, thus far, no single genetic variation has been identified to increase the risk of depression substantially. Genetic variants are expected to have only small effects on overall disease risk, and multiple genetic factors in conjunction with environmental factors are likely necessary for the development of MDD. (Major depressive disorder)."

Link to the article:

http://www.ncbi.nlm....49/?tool=pubmed

It's my personal opinion that our childhood and family play quite a large role in the "nurture" etiology of depression. I doubt if there are many depressed people who had highly nurturing supportive families that modelled healthy behavior, communicated well, and taught healthy coping and self-esteem skills---if there are I haven't met them. All the depressed people that I have known have very 'dysfunctional' families.

Edited by ellemint
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ellemint, you made my day.

Earlier I was talking with a friend about how dysfunctional my family is, how unsupportive they've always been when I really needed them, and how ignorant they remain about depression. Their attitude has usually been something like, "Oh boo hoo, you didn't get what you wanted and now you're sad". Yeah, that kind of family.

My friend's response? 'Maybe you need to take responsibility, maybe you're "self-centered"'. I was floored. It took me YEARS to feel worthy of taking care of myself after a childhood full of sacrificing my own needs for those of my parents.

I am seriously reconsidering this friendship. If I wanted an ignorant and cold response I'd go visit my parents! So thank you for your experience, wisdom, and warmth. I KNOW deep in my bones that had I grown up in a nurturing environment I would have much better coping skills and self worth than I feel today.

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I think that complicating this whole situation of nature versus nurture and nurture versus nature is the philosophical dimension. There are people for whatever reason who do not want this to turn out to be genetic. And there are people for whatever reason who do not want this to turn out be family dynamics.

I notice this in the various self-esteem movements. Some movements want to make sure that self-esteem is tied to achievement: you earn your self-esteem. While other self-esteem movements want to make sure it is tied to one's very being in virtue of being born. I travel a lot and notice that in work-ethic cultures, self-esteem tends to also be tied to work, at least to psychological work. And there tends to be a shunning of the medical aspects of low self-esteem. In non-work ethic cultures I notice self-esteem is tied to being in some way: the self as the child of God or whatever. And in these cultures, the medical aspect is not shunned so much.

I tend to believe, without an ounce of scientific evidence to support such a belief, that there will probably turn out to be a genetic component. It is difficult to reduce one's biases to objectivity, but I wonder why stress does not lead everyone to depression? Not everyone who is the victim of brutal childrearing or massive life traumas seems to fall into this disease pathology. I had a professor once who told me: "don't just write for people you think will like what you have to say. Always write as though people who oppose what you are saying are peeking over your shoulder." He also told me: "Write as though someone in 1000 years might read what you say." Remember the absolute conviction with which people wrote: the sun revolves around the earth, everything is made up of earth, air, fire and water. I think the human brain is poorly understood in spite of the great scientific advances. I "supect" that there is a genetic component to depression. But I could be completely wrong. I have a history of depression in my family and I had a brutal upbringing. I don't know.

Edited by Ep1ctetus
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I suspect it as well ep1ctetus - and while I can't explain it as eloquently as you have I do know these things: eye color is inherited. Heart problems are inherited. Alcoholism runs in families. My jawline is the same as my great great aunt's. Why wouldn't mood disorders qualify as heritable traits? It's a brain thing, just like eye color is an eye thing.

No one wants to believe their family is 'marred' or that any type of 'weakness' is in their genes. No one wants to believe that just because they have bipolar disorder, an addictive nature, or other "unspeakables" their kids are more prone to it. Too scary. Which makes me really angry. How are we going to progress if we can't admit there's a problem in the first place?

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I definately think there is a genetic component to depression. The problem is exactly what you suggested Grovette ^^^

People are afraid of what they do not understand. Personally I have gotten tired of trying to explain depression to my very judgmental family.

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My father had (and still has episodes of depression). His sister has it too as well as anxiety. My sister has depression and anxiety and has self harmed. I've been diagnosed with depression...... in fact during my initial appt with the doc when I was diagnosed I was asked about my family and when I told them about my sister, she asked what meds she was on and said "I'll put you on something similar, as you're sisters what works for one will probably work for the other". Makes one wonder doesn't it.....

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I think it's situational, environment you're brought up in, or suffer in as an adult and so on.

I have a huge family and I'm the only one to suffer from depression but then my psychologist says mine is purely based upon being in an unhappy marriage for such a long space of time that it's compounded into other conditions, like extreme anxiety, panic, OCD and the feeling of having no self worth and wanting to be free.

Edited by katersbee
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I can also realate to the situational side of it katersbee... and when you've got problems with both nature and nurture (such as a neglectful or abusive upbringing AND a family history if mental illess) then POW!

Not to mention the family, friends or spouses who try to keep you in a depressive state as they like the control element it brings. good luck x

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That's when you really have to shut off and rely on only yourself and your gp/psych/therapist. I agree with the environment issue too. And (what I'm trying to achieve) is to believe that when I'm feeling ok, I am really feeling ok.

With support or lack of it, especially when you have family members who have had or continue to suffer and you try and find a link, genetic or not, I think all I've really been able to do is gather little bits and pieces of advice here and there and just basically make use of it or not. It's so individual this illness although common in symptoms in a lot of cases.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm not sure if it is genetics or nurture. It certainly can be both. I know one of my great or great great uncles killed himself. I also know that both sides of my family have a history of alcoholism, with my grandmother also using prescription drugs. My grandfather, on the other side, was committed after WW2. He saw some horrible things and ended up drinking excessively. Now, I don't notice depression in my dad but I do know he has alcoholic tendencies. I have seen depression in my mother but she would never admit to it. So, is it genetics, or just traits and behaviors passed down?

My son has the same temperament as my mother and sister, quick to anger. My husband and I are not like that. So you have to wonder, is that inherited? My other son is laid back. They are in the same environment. Now, my son with the quick to anger personality, is experiencing depression, so did he learn that from me or inherit it? Either way I have mother's guilt.

Though it would be nice to know it doesn't effect the fact that I have it and have to deal with it.

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