Ask Kendra is a monthly(ish) feature where I will answer reader submitted questions about mental health, motherhood, creativity and more! (*please keep in mind I am not a doctor or medically trained professional). Have a question you want answered? Click here to submit.
My mom has been depressed her whole life. Does that mean I’m going to have depression too?
Thanks for submitting this question! It’s a hard one to answer for many reasons. First I want to remind my readers that I’m not a doctor but I did a bunch of research when this question came in and here’s what I’ve learned.
Will you have depression because your mom does?
The answer is: Maybe.
Many studies I saw were very inconclusive but almost all of them said that you will be more predisposed to it because of genes (or because children mimic their parents) but most studies also cite the importance of your environment.
“Clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is the most common form of depression. The Stanford School of Medicine (SSM) estimates that 10 percent of Americans will experience this type of depression at some point in their lives. This type is also more likely to be shared by siblings and children. A person with a relative who suffers from depression is almost five times more likely to develop depression as well” (source)
You are 5 times more likely to get depression if a relative suffers as well. [tweet this!]
In my personal experience, there are only a few people in my extended family that I can think of that haven’t suffered with either depression, anxiety, ocd, ppd or something similar.
“Genes seem to influence mental disorders in three major ways. First, they may contribute to the cause of disease’s such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia or autism. Second, they can be responsible for abnormalities that occur before or after birth. Third, they can contribute to a person’s susceptibility to anxiety, depression, personality disorders and substance abuse.” (source)
“For example, an individual whose family has a history of substance abuse may grow up not to use drugs at all if he has grown up in an environment which taught effective ways to handle stress and a responsible attitude towards drug use.”(source)
“In these disorders, there seem to be combinations of genetic changes that predispose some people to become ill. We don’t yet know how many genes are involved in depression, but it is very doubtful that any one gene causes depression in any large number of people.
So no one simply “inherits” depression from their mother or father. Each person inherits a unique combination of genes from their mother and father, and certain combinations can predispose to a particular illness.” (source)
All this boils down to two things:
If you mother has depression you are more likely to suffer as well.
Your environment and can hurt or help your chances.
There’s honestly no fool proof way to know for sure if you’ll develop depression. There’s no blood test you can take, there’s no genie in a bottle that can tell you. You can do everything right to help yourself from getting depressed and you’ll still get depressed.
Be sure you’re taking time for self care and not constantly burnt out. If you’re a parent or working full time and going to school full time, schedule in alone time or date nights. You don’t always have to be doing something. Enjoy a night off, it’s good for you.
I don’t believe you have to be depressed already to see a therapist. Sometimes, it’s just great to have someone to talk to, to work things out with. If you’re worried about developing depression, seek out a therapist and talk about your concerns. They can help you learn some techniques now that can help you later if you get depressed.
Eating well and exercising is one of the top ways to keep your mind and emotions healthy.
Know the signs and symptoms of depression and what to keep an eye on so if you start to recognize any of those things in yourself, you can seek support right away. My mental health guide might be helpful for you, get it here.
Questions like this make me wish there was a test or guaranteed way of knowing who will have depression and who won’t. The fact is this: “At some point in their lives, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will likely become clinically depressed.” (source) So I can’t tell you for sure if you will have depression because your mother does or even if you aunt or your cousin does.
The best thing to do, is create the best environment you can to support yourself if someday you experience depression.