The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… or does it? What we know about depression and genetics.

Today we throw around the word “depressed,” like it has the same meaning as the word “sad”.  It seems that many of the people we know have dealt with some sort of depression at some point in their lives.  If you have experienced depression before or know someone in your family that has dealt with depression, you may have asked the following questions: What really constitutes clinical depression?  What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

What really constitutes clinical depression?

There are three things that people confuse: Grief, Sadness, and Depression. Grief is acutely reactionary. For example, if you have a large loss, then you will most likely feel extreme pain after that loss.  Six months later, if the sadness is still there but is a bit less intense, then you are experiencing grief.  This grief will most likely resolve itself in some measure over time.  On the other hand, if you experience a catastrophic loss and six months later you can barely function, then you are probably suffering from depression that was triggered from the catastrophic circumstance.  The trajectory tells us a great deal.  Often out of misunderstanding, people think of depression as sadness.  The idea is that it’s just too much sadness, or too much grief at far too slight a cause.  This is not true.  Sadness is simply the emotion felt due to a loss.  Clinical depression is characterized by loss of interest in almost everything.  Someone who is clinically depressed will not want to do any of the things that he previously wanted to do.  In addition, for this person small tasks that used to be easy to accomplish become too much work.  For example, emptying the dishwasher or checking his voicemail both seem like daunting tasks.  This is much more complicated than the emotion of sadness.

What is the likelihood that my children will inherit depression if someone in our family suffers from this illness?

Depression is the result of a genetic vulnerability (that is presumably evenly distributed in the population) and triggering circumstances.  At least 10% of the U.S. population will experience major depressive disorder (clinical depression) at some point in their lives, and two times as many women as men experience major depression.

If you have a parent or sibling that suffers from depression then you are probably at a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%).  The situation is a little different if the parent or sibling has had depression more than once (“recurrent depression”), and if the depression started early in life (childhood, teens, or twenties).  This kind of depression is less common.  The exact percentage of the population is not known but is probably around 3 to 5%.  But the siblings and children of people with this form of depression probably develop it at a rate that is 4 to 5 times greater than the average person.

If you are reading this article and fall into one of the categories talked about above, don’t freak out!  Research shows that someone who suffers from depression and seeks treatment in the form of medication and therapy is less likely to have another depressive episode.  When used together, medication and psychotherapy have been proven to help alleviate depression, and thankfully we offer both of those options here at Heritage.  They key to feeling better is getting into treatment as soon as possible.  So call us and make an appointment if needed and we can help get you on track to feeling better.

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