Is Mental Illness Hereditary?
Is Mental Illness Hereditary?
After a devastating diagnosis like Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia it’s natural to start looking for the cause. First, let me assure you that a person with a mental illness has done nothing to cause the disease. There are contributing factors of course, which we will talk about in a minute, but you don’t get Bipolar Disorder from drinking too much or from hanging out with the wrong people. Certain things can exacerbate the underlying disorder, but the cause is not from a choice you’ve made. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Just remember, you are not the disease. It’s just something you have to live with. You can have a happy, healthy, productive life as long as you learn to manage it.
What Causes Mental Illness?
There are many contributing factors to the onset of a mental illness, but the exact cause is not known. Depending on your diagnosis, the cause can be one or a combination of all the following factors. Each case is different and you should make sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding medication and lifestyle changes. Let’s face it, a person with diabetes has to make serious lifestyle changes to stay healthy, and so does a person with a mental illness.
Genetics: The chance that anyone in the population will be diagnosed with a mental illness is relatively small, about 1.5 out of 100. There is no data that singles out any specific socioeconomic level, ethnicity or culture as a a predisposition to the onset of the disease, mental illness is nondiscriminatory. However, a higher incidence of diagnoses have been shown with the disorders bipolar (manic depressive) and schizophrenia if there have been other family members with the disease, especially in the immediate family. Recently, studies have found a genetic basis with these two diseases. But just because your mother has bipolar disorder, doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it too. The disorder itself occurs from the interaction of these genes and other factors.
Biology: Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are cells in the brain that carry messages back and forth. If these chemicals get out of whack, symptoms of mental illness can present themselves.
Trauma: There have been cases where mental illness symptoms began to show themselves after a psychological trauma such as sexual abuse, severe neglect or physical abuse suffered as a child.
Environmental Stressors: Certain stressors like substance abuse, traumatic event like a death or divorce, can trigger a disorder in a person who might already be at risk for developing mental illness.
Family Patterns/Learned Behavior: We learn how to handle anger, stress, celebrations and so forth from our family at a young age. If your family pattern is to handle triggers in an unhealthy manner these patterns can exacerbate an already underlying disorder.
Most psychological disorders develop later in life and are best understood though a diathesis-stress model, which suggests that heredity alone does not cause the disorder, so in a nutshell, the answer to the question, “Is Mental Illness Hereditary”, is both yes and no.
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