Is Depression Genetic? Here’s What Experts Have to Say

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Samantha Lauriello

If your parent or sibling had depression, maybe you’re worried you’ll get it too. Or perhaps you’re concerned that because you had depression, you’ll pass it on to your child. Whatever the case, you may find yourself wondering: Is depression genetic?

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the US. About one out of every six adults will have depression at some time in their life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anyone can become depressed, regardless of their age, gender, race, or background.

There is evidence that depression can run in families, suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing depression, Natalie Dattilo, PhD, director of psychology services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, tells Health. Research is in early stages, though, and much is still unknown about the genetic basis of the condition. Studies suggest that variations in many genes, rather than one single gene, combine to increase the risk of developing depression.

Depression doesn’t have a clear pattern of inheritance in families, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s true that people who have a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with depression are two to three times more likely to develop the condition. On other hand, many people who develop depression do not have a family history of the disorder, and many people with an affected relative never develop it.

Depression can be caused by a number of factors, says Dattilo. “When I’m working with people to help them understand where their depression came from, we think about it from a biopsychosocial perspective,” she says. “That’s biological, psychological, and social. All of those things need to be considered.”

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