Does Depression Run in Families?
Depression is one of the most common (and toughest) mental illnesses people deal with. About one in ten adults will experience a depressive episode in a given year, and it’s a complicated problem with a number of causes, correlations, symptoms, and side effects. If you haven’t already experienced your own depression, you probably know someone who battles it daily, and the chances that someone in your immediate family is dealing with it are high. The question is: does having a family member with depression make you more vulnerable to the disease?
The Short Answer
Does depression run in families? Yes. There is research that shows you have a higher chance of developing depression if you have close family members who are diagnosed. This is called a genetic predisposition. If one or more people in your immediate family suffer from any of the conditions underneath the “depression umbrella,” you definitely want to do what you can to learn about and take care of your mental health. Just be aware that the possibility exists for you to encounter your own struggles.
The Longer Answer
Here’s the good news: It’s much more complicated than just your genes. While heredity can increase your chances of depression, it’s not a guarantee by any means. On the flip side, if nobody in your family tree wrestles with depression (to your knowledge), you’re not necessarily in the clear. Genes are only one of many risk factors on the long list of what makes each person vulnerable to depression. One of the most significant factors on that list is environmental stress.
How is this good news? While you can’t do anything about your genes, you can take active steps toward creating a better environment for you or for your family member struggling with depression. Reducing environmental stress can help mitigate your risk for developing depression and help alleviate the symptoms for someone who is already depressed. In other words, there is hope!
What You Can Do for Your Parent
It can be difficult to know how to deal with a depressed parent, but if you believe your parent is displaying symptoms of depression, there are a number of ways you can support them and hopefully influence your home life for the better.
Start with compassion. Understand that parenting with depression is hard. Your parent probably already feels a tremendous amount of guilt about how their mental health impacts your well-being. Being angry with them or putting constant pressure on them by reminding them about their failures will only add to that environmental stress we talked about earlier. A simple conversation with your parent is a good place to start. Tell them you love them, that you can see they’re suffering, share that you would like to see a change for the better, and ask what they need to move forward. If you don’t feel close enough or comfortable approaching this conversation yourself, ask their spouse, a sibling, an aunt or uncle, or one of your parent’s close friends for help.
Are they willing to get help? If so, that’s more great news. That old cliché that “acceptance is the first step to recovery” is especially true here. Your parent has to acknowledge that they’re depressed before the family can start to do anything about it. If your parent is willing to receive help, the first step is professional counseling. Encourage them to connect with mental health resources in your area. Talking to a professional will give your parent a much-needed outlet for their feelings and concerns, while also establishing a clear direction for their path to recovery. A counselor or therapist is especially important for a parent with depression, because all too often, a child can get trapped in the role of therapist, which is ultimately not healthy for anyone involved.
Once your parent is in therapy, keep checking in. Let them know you love them and want them to succeed. Your kindness, patience, and support are only going to help them feel motivated to keep doing the hard work of healing. Be realistic about the fact that depression may never really “go away,” but getting treatment can certainly help you and your family find a more functional way of life.
What You Can Do for Yourself
But what if your parent refuses to get help? Lots of parents are members of generations that carry strong negative stigmas about mental health and treatment. They may have grown up thinking that “only really crazy people'' see brain doctors, or that they can’t talk to a therapist because then they’ll get “locked in the nuthouse.” Or perhaps your parent is simply unaware of or refuses to see that they are struggling with their mental health at all. If this is the case, you need to do what’s best for you.
If you still live in the home with your depressed parent, their condition is almost certainly creating environmental stress for you. Environmental stress plus heredity equals a high risk that you will develop symptoms of depression, so you need to do what you can to destress your environment. If you are still financially dependent on this parent or if you are still under 18, you need to seek the help of another responsible adult. It is not up to you to make sure your parent gets to work, remembers to buy groceries, or pays the gas bill. If your parent’s depression is making them incapable of taking care of your basic needs, don’t isolate. You both need outside support.
If you’re an adult who no longer depends on your parent for basic care, you need to create boundaries and set standards for your own mental wellness. Those boundaries can be anything from moving out of the house to saying, “I will not be my father’s therapist.” At the same time as you may want to support your parent, you also want to protect your energy and make your environment as healthy as possible. Allowing your own mental health to decline because of an unwell parent won’t help either of you in the long run. Get yourself a counselor and be proactive about your own mental health. You do not have to suffer the way your parent is suffering.
Why It’s Totally Worth Doing Something
Sometimes it can be difficult to see the point of caring for our own mental health, especially when the people who are supposed to take care of us are struggling too. You might feel tired, discouraged, or simply overwhelmed about where to begin. Please know there is hope. There is relief. There is a brighter day ahead. We were created to experience love and joy, to climb mountains, to connect with others, and to see the beauty in ourselves. Jesus came so that we could live abundantly. If you or your parent are stuck in a low, dark place right now, we want to help you. Here is a resource that will help you gain a greater understanding about God’s love for you and His ability to care for you… and as always HopeCoaches are available 7 days a week if you need to chat.
Depression is a common illness that we often hear about, yet ironically usually have difficulty recognizing, particularly in ourselves. To find out more about depression read this guest blog from our partners at Centerstone.
For additional help with understanding depression, download TheHopeLine's free eBook.