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The gift that keeps on giving…

Scientists tell us that people who have a sibling or parent who have experienced clinical depression are 1 1/2 to 3 times more likely to have depression themselves. I read about this finding quite some time ago, and as with so many studies about depression, it came as no surprise.

Both of my husband’s parents survived periods of depression (though you’d have had a tough time getting either of them to admit to it – shame and stigma ruled in their day). His brother has dealt with crippling depression for at least 10 years. In our experience, depression definitely runs in families.

image credit to sekvenator.com

image credit to sekvenator.com

So it is our job as loving and responsible parents to talk about this predisposition for depression with our children. And we have. It’s a good thing, too. Our oldest realized shortly before she graduated in June that she was dealing with hormone-related depression. With her typical take-charge attitude, she called me, asked for help, and saw our doctor as soon as she got home. The course of treatment they agreed on seems to be working so far, but I’ll be checking in with her regularly as she starts her new life in grad school, halfway across the country.

Her sister hasn’t shown any symptoms that we’re aware of. Though she’s always had a severely mercurial temperament, she’s learned skills to help herself get through her mood swings (and so have we, thank goodness). But we remain vigilant.

And then there’s our youngest. In so many ways he’s much like his father, yet in so many ways he’s very different. What they definitely do share is ADHD – which I would find very worrisome if it weren’t for some important details: husband’s is extremely severe but son’s is mild to moderate; husband went most of his life undiagnosed, but we got help for our son at age 16; husband’s parents had archaic and damaging attitudes toward brain illnesses but we’re open, supportive, and proactive. We’ve had numerous discussions of what to watch out for when he’s on his own at college, and reminders to reach out for help should any aspect of his new life cause uncomfortable stress.

More than once, when Bern and I have been leading groups, we’ve heard people express surprise and skepticism when we bring up the genetic predisposition aspect of depression. That worries me. Sticking our heads in the sand is no defense. Much safer to look our DNA right in the eye (hmmm…odd mental image) and see it for what it is. Knowledge is power.



6 Responses

  1. Great post. I know a few people who blankly deny that depression could be hereditary, because they are scared it will happen to them. But your post shows it can be dealt with, within families, in a mature and practical way. 🙂

  2. It seems interesting to me that people deny (or are unaware) that depression runs in families. If we think about our families for a moment, we can usually trace it through the generations. In my own family, I can see it in my grandparents’ generation, my parents’ generation, mine and my siblings’ generation and now in my children’s generation. All the previous generations chose to ignore it – my sister and brother (both of whom currently suffer from depression) made the decision not to have children. I really believe acknowledgement, understanding and early intervention are key. Thank you for this post!

  3. Thank you for reading!

  4. I know about stigma and all that, but just never got the whole denial thing. As you say, knowledge is power and if we can save ourselves and our loved ones from suffering from years of untreated mental illness, why wouldn’t we? Hopefully our generation and the ones that follow will be more aware and proactive when it comes to mental illness and genetics. Great post!

    • Thanks, Janet. I do think attitudes are better today than they used to be, but there’s still a lot of fear and stigma out there that we need to overcome for the sake of everyone’s health and safety.

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