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Mental Health and Genetics

Mental health conditions are very complex and can affect how a person thinks, acts and feels. When a person has any form of mental illness, it can affect every aspect of their life from their ability to work to their ability to interact with others.

Mental health disorders are typically caused by a combination of factors, one of which is genetics. When mental illness affects one member of the family, the question usually comes up about the likelihood of this disorder being passed on to their children. If you have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or substance use disorder, does that mean your children are at high risk of having the same condition?

Genes and Their Role in Mental Illness

Genes are the basic units of heredity. They are segments of DNA that are found in each cell and determine which traits are passed down from parent to child. It isn’t known for sure how big a role genetics plays in the development of mental illness. Some research indicates there are certain genes and gene variations that are associated with some mental health conditions.

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There are many different types of mental illness that range from mild to severe, and these disorders affect as many as one in five adults in America.  While genetics are a factor in the development of mental illness, there are other factors that come into play as well, such as environment, trauma and biochemical processes.  Having a family member who has been diagnosed with mental illness doesn’t mean that other members of the family will automatically develop it, too.

Diagnosing Mental Illness

There’s no blood test or other definitive test that can diagnose a mental health disorder. Mental illness is diagnosed based on a doctor’s evaluation of an individual patient’s symptoms.  The doctor does a thorough physical exam to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Once medical problems have been ruled out, a mental health professional may evaluate behaviors and feelings. He or she will rely on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-5. He or she will also consider a family history of a particular type of mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia to determine whether the person is exhibiting similar symptoms.

Conditions That Run in Families

Certain forms of mental illness do tend to run in families. It’s known that there is a clear tendency for major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to run in families. Progress is being made in identifying a genetic link to these and other disorders.

One study showed that there are a handful of related genes in the following disorders:

The Future of Mental Health and Genetics

The research that identifies genes shared by different mental illnesses is groundbreaking work. Genetic markers associated with mental illness continue to be discovered, which may someday lead to more accurate screening.

At this time, it’s too early to use genetic testing to accurately diagnose mental illness or predict the risk of developing a mental health disorder. As genetic research continues, the hope is that more discoveries will be made that can ultimately lead to new and better ways to diagnose and treat different forms of mental illness.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental illness, please call us at (866) 339-3544 or submit the form below to learn more about our treatment programs in Los Angeles.

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