Are Mental Disorders Genetic?
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At some point during your life you were diagnosed with a mental disorder. Maybe you felt relief to finally know the cause of your anxiety, depression, OCD, or mood disorders. Perhaps it scared you. But over time you’ve learned to manage your symptoms and lead a full life.
Only now you’re considering starting a family and you’re worried that you could pass your mental health problems on to a child.
These concerns are quite normal. But we want you to be informed. So to help you better understand mental illness, we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions that arise when dealing with mental disorders.
- What is a mental disorder?
- Are mental disorders genetic?
- What causes a mental disorder?
- How do you diagnose a mental disorder?
- Can you reduce your chance of developing a mental disorder?
- Next steps
What is a mental disorder?
Mental illness is much like any other chronic medical problem, except it involves changes in your behaviour, emotion, and thoughts, or a combination of all three. It’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
In fact, mental disorders are quite common, occurring in at least 25% of the adult population. So you are not alone.
Examples of mental illnesses include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, severe depression, schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And in many cases, symptoms can overlap making it difficult to diagnose exactly which disorder you have.
Are mental disorders genetic?
There is some research which suggests that mental disorders can run in families but the evidence isn’t conclusive. Even if you or your partner has a mental illness, there’s no guarantee you’ll pass it on to your child or that they’ll have the same disorder as you.
For example, within a family one person might have mild issues with mental illness whereas another struggles with severe depression. But doctors can’t say for sure why, because mental disorders don’t follow inherited patterns.
So if you or a family member struggles with schizophrenia, severe depression, or bipolar disorder there is a small chance your child could develop it. Take bipolar for instance. The chances of your child inheriting bipolar disorder is 1 in 100, a 1% possibility. Which means you have a 99% chance your child will lead a perfectly healthy life. Those are pretty good odds.
But does genetics alone cause mental illness?
What causes a mental disorder?
Scientists believe that mental disorders occur as a result of genetic and environmental factors.
In the case of genetic factors, mental illness can be hereditary. If you have a family history of mental disorders there is the chance that you or your child may develop it. However, there are people all over the world who struggle with mental disorders and have no history of mental illnesses in their families.
An unhealthy environment or traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one can lead to you developing a mental disorder. For example, being bullied as a child, emotional or physical abuse, substance abuse, trauma (sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood), and isolation can all impact your overall mental health. In the case of abuse, it’s crucial that you seek help. Sharing your experiences and working through difficult times in your life, can help you to process and move on.
How do you diagnose a mental disorder?
Doctors will ask you a series of questions and assess your symptoms against those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to determine whether you may have a mental disorder. To be sure they will likely refer you on to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further observation.
Can you reduce your chance of developing a mental disorder?
There is no guarantee that you will develop a mental disorder. But there are ways you can take care of your mental health.
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Your brain needs a combination of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to stay healthy. So if you do struggle with a mental disorder it’s vital that you watch what you eat. Avoid refined sugar and carbs and instead focus on healthy meals like fruit and vegetables. You’ll have more energy and feel better for it.
2. Exercise regularly
Exercise is crucial to your mental wellbeing. It releases endorphins which make you feel good. It removes tension and anxiety. And it can help you get a better night’s sleep. So when you’re feeling down, grab your running shoes and take a walk along the beach or cycle through the valley. Get your heartbeat up and enjoy nature. You’ll feel better for it.
You want to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions. Depression is a disorder of the mind. Negative thoughts impact how you feel, which causes more negative thoughts and a downward spiral into emotional bleakness. Learning to control your thoughts is vital.
Quiet the mind and focus on your breathing. Spending just 10 minutes a day meditating can dramatically improve your overall mental health, so don’t be afraid to give it a try.
4. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is vital to your mental wellbeing and you need between six and nine hours of sleep a night. The number varies from one person to the next, so figure out your sweet spot. When you don’t get enough sleep regularly it can be difficult to concentrate, and it can affect your mood. Speak to your doctor if you struggle with sleep problems.
5. Form a supportive community
Feeling alone or isolated can lead to mental health disorders. You need a community of people who care for you and will support you through tough times. These are people you can share your true feelings with, and not worry about being judged. It could be friends or family members, but having this support structure is vital to your overall mental health.
6. Avoid drugs and alcohol
Many people use alcohol and drugs to cope with life stresses and this can contribute to your overall mental health. It can also impact the effectiveness of your medication. So when you find yourself reaching for a gin and tonic at 5 pm, walk away. Take time to meditate or go for a walk to clear your head, until the craving goes away.
7. Reduce stress
Do your best to limit your stress. A demanding job and relationship issues can easily impact your mental health. If you find yourself frequently down, consider changing jobs or ending a toxic relationship. Alternatively, speak to a psychologist. Talking can be very therapeutic.
We’re here to help you know your options and make an informed decision. If you suspect that you may have a mental health disorder, get in touch with your doctor or book an appointment with a psychologist. Alternatively, contact Welwitschia Hospital at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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