Depression: Genetics & Family History

Genetic Causes for Depression

If you have a family history of depression you’re more likely to experience depression. Depression affects people in many different ways and can cause a wide variety of physical, psychological (mental) and social symptoms.

A few people still think that depression is ‘not a real illness’, and that it is some sort of ‘weakness’, or admission of failure. This is simply not true. Depression is a real illness with real effects, and it is certainly not a sign of failure. In fact, famous leaders, such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi, all experienced bouts of depression.

Family History of Depression

If you have a family history of depression, you are more likely to get depression yourself.

Studies have shown that different versions of a gene (known as 5-HTT) can be inherited which can have an affect on a natural, mood changing chemical in your brain, called serotonin. About 20% of people have got what geneticists (gene specialists) call the ‘short’ version of the 5-HTT gene, and it is these people who are more likely to develop depression after a stressful life event.

Research has shown that there is a link between depression and the imbalance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. People who are depressed have a lower level of certain types of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, than people who are not. It is still not fully understood whether this imbalance is a result of depression, or a cause of it.

Children inherit the 5-HTT gene from their parents, so having a history of depression in the family can increase your risk of developing it. In other words, you have a ‘genetic predisposition’ for depression. On the other hand, many people who have a family history of depression never develop the condition. Also, people with no family history of depression can become depressed.