There are a lot of reasons why a mental health issue can develop. If you struggle with one, then you already know it can feel like a complex problem. There are biological components, emotional components, and genetic components, meaning some mental health issues run in families.
If several family members have a certain mental health issue, for example, it might explain some of the problems you've been dealing with. "Several mental illnesses have at least some genetic component," Ravi N. Shah, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Remember that the vast majority of mental illnesses are not strictly heritable by a single gene. Rather, they are more similar to a complex trait such as height or intelligence. That means that broadly speaking, a family history of mental illness raises the risk of mental illness in patients on average." But that doesn't mean they're necessarily guaranteed.
In fact, science isn't really sure as to the cause of most mental illnesses. As Shah says, "The exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, but genetic and environmental factors interact to increase (or decrease) the risk of mental illness for any particular individual." It's the whole "nature versus nurture" thing.
The good news is they're all treatable. "Every mental disorder can be treated effectively with both cognitive therapy to help the patient understand the disorder and how to manage it, as well as medication as needed," psychologist and author Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, PhD tells Bustle. "Each person requires a thorough evaluation that results in a treatment plan." So if any of the issues listed below sound familiar, or there's a history of them in your family, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Here are 10 mental health issues that are more likely to run in families.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness marked by delusions, emotionlessness, and "thinking problems," among other things. And it comes with a pretty high genetic risk. "For example, the lifetime chance of developing schizophrenia is about one percent for the general population. The likelihood jumps to 45 percent if both of the person’s biological parents also have schizophrenia," Dr. Bryan Bruno, medical director at Mid City TMS. But of course, those odds aren't a definite guarantee. If your family has a history of schizophrenia and you are wondering if you also have this mental illness, consulting with your doctor is the best way to find out and discuss next steps.
2. Anxiety Disorders
As with schizophrenia, Farrell says anxiety disorders run in families by virtue of genetic inheritance. Some symptoms of anxiety disorders include high stress, feeling socially isolated, or having poor self esteem, Farrell says. Although not the case for everyone, "[a] predisposition to self-medicate to help with this disorder may lead to substance abuse." If you are struggling with anxiety, always talk with a loved one or therapist to help cope with some of your symptoms, especially if you are beginning to self-medicate.
Depressive symptoms can come about for a variety of reasons, but you are more likely to experience them if your parents did. "Anxiety and depression are very likely to run in families," Sara Makin, MSEd, NCC, founder of Makin Wellness, tells Bustle. "There are two major reasons why [someone may develop depression]: they are genetically predisposed and also observe [and] model their parents' behaviors. If they see that their mom tends to sleep a lot and is withdrawn, they are more likely to do the same as well." If you know depression runs in the family, and you are starting to exhibit similar habits to your relatives, talking with a loved one or psychologist may help you to better handle this mental health issue.
4. Bipolar Disorder
Mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, can also be genetic. "People with a first degree relative with either depression or bipolar disorder have a higher risk," says Shah.
According to Bruno, the lifetime chance of developing bipolar disorder is around two to three percent for the average person, but the likelihood jumps to 50 percent when both biological parents have the disorder. Although this doesn't guarantee a diagnosis, speak with a doctor or someone you trust if you believe you may also have bipolar disorder.
5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
As with other anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can run in families. But not necessarily for genetic reasons. "It could be more along the lines of a unhealthy coping mechanism/learned behavior," licensed marriage and family therapist, Racine R. Henry, PhD, tells Bustle. "OCD is when a person has verbal/behavioral repetitions that are beyond their control and causes discomfort in their daily functioning. Similar to depression and anxiety, a child can have a parent with OCD and either adopt the same behaviors or purposely do the opposite out of defiance. It can be triggered by trauma but does not have the same genetic basis as ... bipolar disorder."
That said, more research needs to be done. "There has been a gene found to be linked to OCD but it is not a clear cause and effect," says Henry. "It’s a mixture of factors including genes, environment, and physiology."
6. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
An Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses can have a lot to do with the way you were raised, and what was modeled for you as a kid. If you were parents were impulsive, for example, it could be affecting you to this day. "Adulthood ADHD ... has similar symptoms as ADHD (which is only used for children) but it is diagnosed later in life, which could mean that it is a learned behavior/coping mechanism," Henry says. If you are having difficulty concentrating, and believe it may be ADHD, speaking with your doctor about how to alleviate your symptoms may be the best way to move forward.
7. Eating Disorders
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, it might be due to the fact they run in your family. In a study conducted by the Eating Recovery Center, Dr. Michael Lutter estimated that the risk of developing an eating disorder is over 50 percent genetic. So if your mom or dad had one, it may explain why.
Don't get discouraged, though. There are so many ways to recover from an eating disorder, so — even though it's super difficult — you should never feel hopeless, or like you can't reach out for help.
8. Postpartum Depression
If your mom struggled with postpartum depression after giving birth, there's a chance it may be a problem for you, too. "I see a large number of women who experience depression, bipolar, anxiety, or OCD during or after pregnancy, and when they do some digging into their family history, they determined several of their female relatives struggled, too," Crystal Clancy, MA, LMFT, owner of Iris Reproductive Mental Health tells Bustle.
Postpartum depression is a mental health issue that especially can come out of left field. When you're "supposed" to be happy after having a baby, feeling depressed instead can come as quite a shock. But if you know your family has a history, you may be able to take preventive measures before symptoms impact your daily life.
Believe it or not, problems with addiction — like alcoholism or gambling — can run in families. "We tend to see alcoholism and addictive behaviors in family trees at least two to three generations in most current addicts," therapist Stacy Haynes, EdD, LPC, ACS tells Bustle. "The scientists focused on a region of chromosome 15 that contains several genes involved in the movement of a brain chemical called GABA between neurons. One version of the gene, GABRG3, was found statistically linked with alcoholism in the affected families."
There's also the whole "learned response" aspect, which means you might have picked up these tendencies simply by seeing them as you grew up. "The social component of watching [a parent] drink also increases our likelihood of getting the disorder," says Hayes. Although you're not predestined to have issues with substance abuse if a family member had, it may be a good idea to monitor your substance intake, and be aware if it begins to reach unhealthy levels.
Again, since many anxiety issues run in families due to learned responses, it's not uncommon to "inherit" the same phobias from your parents. Did your mom freak out whenever she saw a spider? Was your uncle terrified of heights? If you grew up watching them react intensely in these situations, you might have picked up the tendency. (And there is some evidence to suggest that phobias are passed down genetically, too.)
They can feel deeply ingrained, but there are ways to overcome phobias. Among the many treatment methods are desensitization techniques, medications, and even support groups.
It is important to remember that just because a mental illness runs in your family, that doesn't mean you will get it. But by knowing your family's history, experts say you can be more proactive about your mental health overall.