Is Mental Illness Hereditary?

Mental health disorders do run in families, meaning that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be more susceptible to develop one. While there is no specific gene for mental illness, there is a genetic predisposition, which means an individual can be predisposed. Furthermore, genetics can certainly increase the risk of having a mental illness, but it doesn’t guarantee that a person will get one.

Mental Illness and How Genetics Play a Role

According to the National Institute of Health:

Scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. Symptoms can overlap and so distinguishing among these 5 major psychiatric syndromes can be difficult. Their shared symptoms suggest they may also share similarities at the biological level. Recent studies have turned up limited evidence of shared genetic risk factors, such as for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia, and depression and bipolar disorder. (NIH)

When talking about mental illnesses being hereditary, it gets very complicated. Genetic markers can exist, but they may not. If you see that an illness says it is genetic, that just means that there is some component of the illness that is genetic. For instance, you have a set of identical twins that are both predisposed to mental illness, but each one of them responds differently to stressors; one of them may have a mental illness, while the other one doesn’t.

What Causes Mental Illnesses?

There are several causes of mental illnesses. An individual’s environment, chronic stress, and biological factors can all play a role. Mental illness can also be linked to infections, substance abuse, prenatal injury, and trauma.

Scientists do know that a person’s environment can play a significant role in the development of mental illness. Anything from stress, to death, divorce, substance abuse, neglect, family issues, to poor nutrition can all be contributing factors. Having a genetic predisposition along with any of these environmental factors will increase a person’s likelihood of developing a mental illness.

Chronic stressors such as finances, marital problems, work, academics, health, and family issues also can increase the chances of developing a mental illness. Poverty is another factor that comes into play for increasing the risk of developing a mental illness. Children that grow up poor are more likely to develop a mental illness than those that come from wealthier families. Chronic infections can also be a cause of developing a mental illness. Any chronic infection can damage healthy brain tissue.

Genetics and Mental Health Disorders

Substance abuse is a big contributor to mental illness and vice-versa. About half of all individuals with mental illnesses also have issues with substance abuse. When an individual has both disorders this results in a dual diagnosis of mental illness.

Trauma is also a huge factor in developing a mental illness. Any emotional, sexual, or physical trauma or event that leads to emotional or physical injury can lead to PTSD, depression, or anxiety disorders, etc.

Prenatal injury can also lead to mental illness if the mother experienced injury or trauma while pregnant. Fetal Alcohol Disorders along with substance abuse by the mother while she was pregnant can cause injury to the fetus, and they may be born with mental health issues.

If a family member has a mental illness, an individual’s chances of developing one do increase, but it’s not a guaranteed thing.

Resources for Mental Health Disorders

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness, our mental health experts are available to assist you around the clock. Voices of Mental Health has a standing passion for helping others achieve peace, serenity, and fulfillment. We will help you access top treatment centers with caring and supportive assistance. You don’t have to suffer any longer, call us today.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Cayla Clark, BA

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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