Could Depression Be in Your Genes?

Could Depression Be in Your Genes?

The notion that depression is partly in the genes is not new. In fact, scientists estimate that genetics explains about 40 percent of the risk for the disease. Now, two teams studying different groups of people have pinpointed at least one spot in our genes where depression may lurk. It's on chromosome 3, they've found. Both new studies, one by British researchers and one by Americans, were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The discovery may eventually lead to better depression treatments.

Why Genes Make a Difference
Each one of us is born with 23 pairs of chromosomes, structures that hold our approximately 20,000 to 25,000 genes. Not only do those genes determine traits like our eye color, hair color and height, they also influence our health. Almost every disease is now thought to have at least some genetic component.

Scientists study the genes on each chromosome to help understand why some people are more prone to certain diseases. Knowing the genetic basis for a disease can help parents determine if they're likely to pass it along to their children. And, it can help doctors predict who will respond best to different therapies.

Watch for Symptoms
Even as researchers learn more about genes and depression, they stress that other factors also contribute to the development of the disease. Chemical imbalances, hormones, other illnesses and stressful life events appear to play a role.

In some cases, nature and nurture interact. For example, another recent study found experiencing the death of someone close triggered depression in teens whose genes placed them at risk. 

Tell your doctor if you have a family history of depression. He or she can screen you carefully for signs of depression, including:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or empty
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Sudden changes in eating or sleep habits
  • Thinking about, or attempting, suicide

Treatment, including medications and psychotherapy, can help those with depression regardless of the cause. Get help if you or a loved one has five or more symptoms of depression for two weeks or longer.

Having some level of genetic risk for depression does not mean that you will necessarily experience depression. Regardless of genetic risk, there are many behavioral, social and environmental factors that can buffer against the expression of the genetic risk for depression.  Psychological treatments are particularly helpful in teaching skills that a person can use to protect themselves against depression or deal with depression effectively. Research has documented several psychological approaches as being highly effective in treating this disabling disease.

Confidential Depression Screenings
Sharp Grossmont Hospital Behavioral Health Services provides free, confidential depression screenings. Screening includes a brief questionnaire and individual consultation with a mental health clinician. Information on depression and referrals will be available.

9 am to 3 pm

Behavioral Health Services
Sharp Grossmont Hospital
5555 Grossmont Center Drive
La Mesa, CA 91942

Appointments are recommended. Walk-ins will be accepted, based on availability. For more details and to schedule an appointment, call 619-740-4378.

For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's mental health services or to find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego psychiatrist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm. To find general information about mental health, visit Mental Health Disorders in Adult Health or read the Mental Health News archive.