a person looks sadly out a window pondering the role of heredity in depression

Understanding the Role of Heredity in Depression

From red-haired curls to big blue eyes, certain characteristics run in families. But not every inherited trait is as harmless as hair color. Some families struggle with a darker legacy: depression. People who live with this disorder aren’t just blue; they often feel hopeless, helpless, and, in the most serious cases, suicidal. The symptoms of depression are profound enough that even simple, everyday tasks become difficult. But how much of a role does heredity play in depression? And if it does, can you do anything to prevent it?

Whether the influence of heredity in depression diagnoses is profound or small, millions of Americans struggle with the mental disorder annually. Recovery Ranch TN offers a depression treatment program for people struggling with their mental health. If you struggle with depression and need help, call 1.844.876.7680 today to find out if our program can help you.

Is Depression Hereditary?

Like so many disorders, the role of heredity in depression is not clear-cut. We know that having a parent, sibling, or child with depression increases your chance of developing it. For example, one study examined several generations of families who had survived a devastating earthquake in Armenia. Researchers discovered that about 60% of depressive episodes experienced after the event had a genetic link. This study suggests that our DNA plays at least some role in raising the risk for depression. Scientists are just beginning to uncover the reasons behind that link.

Recent mental health research also suggests that people living with depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus—a structure in the brain—than those who don’t live with the disorder. The hippocampus plays a vital role in memory, learning, and emotion. What experts don’t know yet, however, is whether having a smaller hippocampus triggers depression or whether the higher levels of stress hormones in depressed people shrink that part of the brain. What is clear is that depression is a complex mental disorder that will only be fully understood with the help of ongoing research.

Depression and Genetics

The link between psychiatric disorders and genetics is apparent in some cases. Still, many non-genetic factors are believed to also play a role in whether or not someone develops depression. Other risk factors for clinical depression may include:

  • Experiencing trauma as a child
  • Social isolation or having few close relationships
  • Suffering from a serious medical condition, like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes
  • Living with chronic pain
  • Taking certain medications
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

Can I Reduce My Risk for Depression?

Depression often stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain, so there are no surefire ways to prevent it. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk and help keep it at bay. Lifestyle changes can play an important role in both reducing symptoms when they do occur, as well as helping to prevent episodes altogether. In general, you can make yourself more resilient to depression by reducing stress and creating a healthy mindset. Following are some practical tips:

Learn to Manage Stress

When it comes to depressive episodes, stress is one of the leading triggers. While there is no way to eliminate stress from everyday life, you can learn various stress management techniques that will boost your resilience and keep you calm. Practicing meditation and yoga regularly are excellent for stress. Both help keep you calm and centered. Other relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, visualization, and guided imagery.

Stay Connected

Feelings of loneliness and isolation are also prime triggers for major depression. Developing and maintaining healthy, supportive, positive relationships with a network of people benefits your mental health in many ways. For example, if you don’t have close family nearby, you might start attending a local church or sign up for an intramural sports league.

Break a Sweat

Whether you choose jogging in the park or a spinning class at the gym, regular aerobic exercise is a healthy way to boost your mood and alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies depression. Schedule physical exercise-at least two times a week-to flood your body with endorphins—the natural chemicals that decrease stress hormones and increase your sense of well-being.

Eat Well

It’s hard to feel good mentally or physically if your body isn’t nourished properly. Take some time to assess your current diet and pinpoint any weak areas that make your body operate at less than 100%. For example, eating foods high in sugar can wreak havoc with your mood and exacerbate depression, so reducing sugar intake is a good starting point. Vegetables are packed with brain-boosting nutrients, so try incorporating more fresh vegetables into your daily diet.

Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

Many people who struggle with depression also struggle with alcohol or drug abuse. While moderation with alcohol is a good policy for anyone, it’s crucial if you have a genetic predisposition to depression; in fact, you may consider avoiding it altogether since it’s a depressant. Illicit drug use should be avoided altogether.

Depression does run in families. However, by being proactive, you can reduce your risk of developing the disorder or at least keep symptoms to a minimum if they do occur. It’s never too soon to start managing stress and building a foundation for good mental health.

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