My mother is depressed, can I pass on the disorder to my children?

As society begins to know that there are many diseases that have a genetic origin (Hereditary) or environmental, a new demand arises from society regarding the transmission of these diseases: we want to know if the one that worries us, whether it is because we suffer it or some family member, can be transmitted to our offspring, and, if so, how it is transmitted.

All mental disorders are called polygenic diseases, as the fact of suffering this disorder or not will depend on whether we inherit different genes, and not a single gene (as occurs with diseases with very low occurrence in the population such as phenylketonuria or mental retardation.

In the case of depression, a single gene alone cannot cause the disorder, it will need to add its effects to that of the other genes for the disorder to manifest and/or as a result of interaction with the environment.

Depression would be part of ” complex disorders ” in the sense that they involve the interaction of multiple herediraty and environmental factors through complex mechanisms.

What Is Really Hereditary Depression?

Some studies confirm the existence of certain genes that can make us more prone to depression. But, as we know, most types of depression are triggered by environmental and non-biological factors. In any case, having a genetic tendency to depression does not imply that we will necessarily suffer from depression in the future.

When we talk about hereditary depression we don’t talk about genes, but about family environment. A greater predisposition to depression has been observed when one or more family members have had the same disorder. But it seems more than a genetic motive, of socio-cultural influence.

And it is that the family and social environment is decisive for our personality and for our emotional balance. Living with a depressed person is also not easy and can weaken our mood. On the other hand, certain attitudes towards the life of people with a tendency to depression can be easily transferred from generation to generation.

Development Disorder = Genes + Environment

Development Disorder, Genes, Environment

A couple who wants to have a child asked us for genetic advice as the husband’s mother was suffering from depression.

In this case, the disease has a multifactorial origin, that is, the origin of this disorder is found in both hereditary and environmental factors. What is inherited is the susceptibility to the disorder. It is not the presence in the genome of a particular gene or the presence of a single specific environmental risk factor that determines the occurrence of a mood disorder. But a number of genetic and environmental conditions have to be produced and, more importantly, between the interactions have to occur so that this disorder manifests itself.

A risk factor is any circumstance or situation that increases the likelihood of a disease or an adverse event occurring. Risk factors are not necessarily the causes, but are associated with the event, and, as they have predictive value, can be used for prevention.

Given this multifactorial origin , the assessment of the risk that the man, husband, also suffers from depressive crises or that their child is going to suffer from them is difficult to estimate, although it is possible to expose what is known in this regard and the environmental factors that research has been found as precipitators or vulnerability .

Having an affected parent is known to increase the risk of developing the disorder. It is also known to be a more common disorder in women than in men, and in the general population, its prevalence ranges from 3% to 5%.

Among the environmental risk factors involved in the manifestation of mood disorder (which increase general predisposition, but rarely directly cause the disease) are as follows:

  • stressful situations (negative life events such as divorce, death of a relative, harassment, humiliation…)
  • depressed or unstructured environments (marital conflicts, emotional difficulties between a parent and a child…)

Environmental risk factors can enhance the genetic risk factors that a person has in his or her genome (gene-environment interaction).

Protective Factors (decrease the likelihood of depression in the presence of risk factors):

  • Good sense of humor
  • Harmonious friendly relations
  • Close relations with one or more family members
  • Socially valued personal achievements
  • Normal-high intelligence level
  • Playing a sport or physical activity
  • Participation in school/social clubs or volunteering

How To Avoid Hereditary Depression

In these cases of hereditary depression, we have a protagonist who is not given the attention it deserves: the feeling of guilt. A feeling that can drown out a whole family, that can go from generation to generation as an inheritance of behavior and from which we can hardly escape if we do not assume as true something fundamental: being happy is an obligation.

Most of the time, when we talk about depression, we talk about sadness, anguish, melancholy, but the real enemy of depression, that wall that prevents us from being effective and fast treatments is the feeling of guilt. Because there are still many people who believe they do not deserve to be happy because they are not valued enough.

It is also deeply rooted in families the belief that we should not be happy and enjoy life when we have lost a loved one when economic problems squeeze us when we run out of work when we have a couple of crisis.  But adversity should not be an impediment to being happy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here