Are Mental Illnesses Genetic?

Published On: November 30, 2021Categories: Mental Health

Having a family member diagnosed with a mental health disorder might leave you wondering “can mental illness be genetic?” While the answer to the question isn’t simple— there is an answer. Read on to explore the link between mental illness and genetics.

Are mental illnesses genetic?

Mental illnesses are complex, and sadly there isn’t a simple answer to this question. While mental health disorders are sometimes hereditary, it’s not the only factor that can predict or protect against the onset of a mental illness.

While it would be easier to understand if a mental illness was caused by one specific identifiable gene, this is rarely the case. Often the onset of mental illness is influenced by several genes that make the disease more likely. 

Certain traits are passed down from parents to children, so a gene that influenced mental illness in a parent can be passed down. While this doesn’t guarantee that the offspring will have a mental health disorder, combined with other factors it can increase the chances of mental illness occurring. 

Every day research in this area is improving. While there is no specific gene that can be screened for, one day we may be able to screen for traits that are risk factors for the onset of an illness.

What other factors contribute to mental illness?

Science has been able to narrow down some major factors that contribute to the likelihood of a person experiencing mental illness in his or her lifetime. Below are the most common causes and risk factors, according to Mayo Clinic.

  • Genetics: Inherited traits from blood relatives can increase or decrease your chances of experiencing a mental health disorder.
  • Exposure to environmental factors in utero: When babies are exposed to toxins (such as drugs or alcohol), extreme maternal stress or other inflammatory conditions, they may be more prone to the onset of mental illness.
  • Brain chemistry: An imbalance of certain hormones or chemicals can disrupt proper functioning and lead to a condition like anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Another mental health condition: Having a mental health disorder can make it more probable that another mental illness will occur. For example, anxiety and depression have a high rate of comorbidity, according to the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
  • Another physical condition: Having a physical health impairment, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer, could impact a person’s experience with mental illness, according to the Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry.
  • Traumatic life events: A sudden death, an accident, an injury, abuse or combat experience are all risk factors for a mental health diagnosis.

Is there any way to avoid mental illness?

While a person cannot change his or her genetic makeup, it is possible to build up protective factors against the onset of a mental health disorder. A person is able to influence some social, mental and physical aspects that can reduce the likelihood of a disorder, or at least decrease the severity of it’s impact.

One of the first things that can be addressed is a person’s physical health. Investing in a healthy, organic diet can help to stabilize body chemicals, improve mood and boost energy. Diets that are loaded with processed foods, unhealthy fats and sugars leave a person feeling physically weak, which reflects back on a person’s self-perception.

Another major way to safeguard against mental illness is to exercise regularly. Even without going to the gym there are countless ways to workout that are free, easy and safe. Start with a doable amount of movement that is sustainable for your lifestyle.

One of the best and most enjoyable protective factors against the onset of mental health disorders is the support of a social circle. Healthy relationships are key to maintaining mental wellness, and can encourage you if treatment is required.

In the case that you feel you may already be struggling with a mental illness, early intervention can help you heal the root of the disorder and alleviate symptoms. Participating in psychotherapy as a preventative measure can also be a smart move if you are vulnerable to the onset of a mental illness. Afterall, anyone can benefit from therapy— diagnosis or not.

How are mental illnesses treated?

Mental illnesses are typically first treated with psychotherapy, or talk therapy. This can happen in individual or group settings, but in most cases happens one-on-one. In therapy you’ll learn skills and tools to cope with stress and different emotions as well as have chances to process and understand your own condition.

Mental illnesses can also be treated by medications that help reduce symptoms so you can continue with normal functioning. Medication is always part of a comprehensive treatment plan, and never taken without supervision.

While many people are familiar with the first two most common steps in treatment (psychotherapy and medication), lifestyle changes are also a huge part of recovery. In order to decrease the impact of mental illness, reducing risk factors that you have power over and investing in protective factors will be a gamechanger in your mental wellbeing.

Getting help

Whether you’re the first in your family to experience mental health disorders or the most recent in a long line of family conditions, getting professional help is your best bet for success. Find healing and happiness with Tapestry. Tapestry is located in Asheville, North Carolina and offers services for the whole family. Call 828-490-4032 today.

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