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The Genetics of Mental Illness

Genetics of Mental Illness

A number of factors can lead to mental illness. Genetics is just one of them. It is important for anyone with a family history of mental illness to realize what this does and does not mean for their own mental health. At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health, we help our patients to understand and manage their mental health as one piece of their overall well-being. 

Diagnoses with Genetic Links

Not every mental health condition is known to have a genetic component at this time. While science may find hereditary connections for more diseases in the future, at this time, only a few mental health conditions have been found to have genetic links:

Autism spectrum disorder (AUD) also has a genetic component and is sometimes studied alongside and mentioned in articles that discuss the genetics behind mental illness. It is worth noting, however, that many professionals do not consider autism to be a form of mental illness. It is more commonly considered a neurological and/or developmental condition, which is sometimes accompanied by mental illness/es.

Not Guaranteed

Genetics are more complex than many people realize. There are up to 16 different genes involved in just deciding what color your eyes will be. The genetics involved in mental health are just as complex. Even if you have a close blood relative with a mental health disorder, this does not mean that you will also develop that condition. It just means that your risks are higher than they would be for someone whose family does not include anyone with this diagnosis.

The Benefit of Family Medical History

Knowing that you have a loved one who has had mental health concerns can give you an advantage in managing your own mental health. For example, you are likely to be aware of the symptoms of conditions you have already seen in your family members. This awareness may make it more likely that you’ll seek treatment right away, improving your chances for recovery.

If you do have a close family member with a mental health condition and you develop it as well, knowing which treatments have and have not worked for them may prove helpful in quickly finding options that work for you. While every person is a unique individual, sometimes what works for one person may also prove helpful for a close blood relative.

Compiling Your Family Medical History

It is a good idea to talk to your blood relatives to find out what diagnoses your first-degree (parents, siblings and children) and second-degree (nieces, nephews, half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles) family members have received. There are free online tools you can use to keep track of the information you learn, or you can just make a spreadsheet. 

Professional Support

Once you know your family medical history, if you feel you have reason to be concerned about your mental health, you may want to reach out for professional support. 

  • Sharing your complete family medical and mental health history with your primary care doctor can help them recognize any signs of mental health or physical health conditions that commonly occur alongside mental health disorders.
  • A mental health professional who can help you understand risk factors and preventative steps you can take to maintain your mental health. 
  • A genetic counselor may also be able to offer assistance in estimating your risk for certain mental health conditions and the risk any of your biological children have for those same diagnoses.

Not the Only Cause

While a person cannot control their genetics, a number of other factors that contribute to mental illness can be controlled and managed. For example: 

  • If you know that using certain substances can trigger psychosis in people, you can choose to avoid those substances, especially if you have a blood relative with schizophrenia.
  • It is known that untreated trauma can lead to a variety of mental health conditions, so seeking out mental health services right away if you or your child experiences trauma can reduce the odds of developing a mental illness caused by trauma.
  • Recognizing the impact of lifestyle choices like sleep, diet, and exercise on mental illness may help you to manage depression and anxiety.
  • Having good strategies for managing stress can also make certain mental health conditions less severe.

At Carolina Dunes Behavioral Health in Leland, North Carolina, we treat several mental health conditions that can have genetic components. We teach our patients and their families strategies to manage their conditions and live their best lives.

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