Is Depression in Our DNA?

The Genetics of Mental Health and Illness

Nathan Smith

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Introduction

Depression is characterized by low energy, deteriorating interest in usual activities, and a general sense of negative affect or “sadness.” Depression can present as feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness, and hopelessness, and can adversely affect one’s relationships, professional life, and general well-being. One can also present with varying symptoms such as withdrawal or anger, or insomnia or hypersomnia, depending on other factors.

The term “depression” covers a broad array of mental disorders and conditions, including Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymia, among others. Unique expressions of depression include Perinatal Depression and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Generally, however, most forms of depression are episodic, occurring in rhythms of approximately a few weeks to several months (American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization).

Depression is not only a leading cause of disability worldwide, but far more common than one may expect, with up to 3.8% of the global population experiencing depression. Far from a merely “mental” or “emotional” state, depression can negatively impact one’s physical health through fluctuations in neurotransmitters such as serotonin and cortisol, leading to inflammation, weight gain, low energy, among other issues. Worse yet, depression has a high co-morbidity with other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and is a major contributor to suicidal ideation. In the United States alone, between 1996 and 2016 suicide rates increased nationwide by rates as high as 30% and higher (Stone, World Health Organization).

A Brief History of Diagnosis

Mental illness has existed presumably as long as minds themselves, but the identification and treatment of mental illness has varied greatly over time. European and Middle Eastern societies, for example, have viewed mental illness in various ways: moral failure, the work of malignant spirits, untreatable neurological disorder, nebulous madness. The history of the treatment of mental illness has been equally variegated, ranging from ostracization and exile to well-meaning but…

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Nathan Smith

Writer, therapy student, queer; interested in psychology, philosophy, literature, religion/spirituality. YouTube.com/@MindMakesThisWorld @NateSmithSNF