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A Guide To Help You Prepare For Hereditary Mental Health Disorders

Mental Health Disorders can have a significant impact on a person's life. It can change the way you approach the world, the way you think, and the way you act. Sometimes these disorders can be hereditary, presenting in various family members over the years. Learn more about these conditions, and what you can do to plan for them in our blog!

Mental health disorders (or mental illnesses) are health conditions that can have varying effects on people, oftentimes affecting the way a person thinks, acts, feels, understands, or communicates. They can significantly impact the way one has to go about their life, turning the simplest task into something highly challenging.

Some questions most people tend to ask, with regard to mental disorders, are:

  • “Why does this happen?”
  • “Are they hereditary?”
  • “Could I develop a mental health disorder?”
  • “How can I prepare for them in advance?”

Finding an exact underlying cause for most mental illnesses can be extremely challenging since the connection between our bodies and minds is quite complex. This complexity, further complicated by varying life experiences and environments, makes it almost impossible to pinpoint a single cause for all mental illnesses. However, through extensive research and studies, doctors now know of several factors that can influence an individual’s risk of developing a mental health issue – environmental, societal, genetic, and biological.


How Can Genetics Influence Mental Health Disorders?
There are a few ways in which genes ‘express’ themselves in a mental health disorder:
Single gene expression: A lone gene activates – triggering the development of a physical or mental illness, though the likelihood of this happening is very low – significantly more so for mental health disorders.


Epigenetic expression: A gene may or may not show ‘expression’ at various points in life, significantly aided by environmental influences. In epigenetic expression, the way the gene expresses is fluid, not static. This means that unless there exists a perfect mixture between the ‘expression’ and several factors, a mental health disorder is unlikely to develop.


Gene polymorphisms: There can be changes in an individual’s DNA that distinguish them from even close familial matches like a twin. Even with gene polymorphisms, it would still require a combination of various other factors to develop a mental health disorder.
Thus having a mental health disorder in your family does not automatically mean that you are genetically predisposed to having the same disorder. However, genetics plays a role in increasing your risk of developing a mental health disorder.


Having a mental illness genetic predisposition counts toward increasing your risk as studies (which research genetic links) indicate the chances of developing a disorder are higher when a genetic link exists. Some mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, display a more obvious genetic component in development. Genetic studies have been able to correlate variations in chromosomes to
five major mental health disorders – namely depression, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

The chance of an individual having a specific mental disorder is higher if other family members have that same mental disorder, though there may be considerable differences in the severity of symptoms among different family members. One person may have a mild case, while someone else has a more severe case of the same underlying mental disorder. Mental disorders, however, do not follow typical patterns of inheritance.

None of the studies pinpoint a single gene/genetic marker that aided the development of a mental health disorder; however, what they do establish is the presence of similarities in the genetics of those with mental health problems when compared to those without these problems.


What Are the Signs of a Mental Health Disorder to Watch For?

If you believe you are at risk of getting a mental health disorder, keep track of
your mental health, so that you can see if you are developing symptoms. Here are
some common indications of a developing mental health problem:
 Focus/attention issues at work/school
 Sleep issues – insomnia, nightmares, sleep paralysis
 Constantly feeling tired
 Mood swings and emotional fluctuations
 Abnormal feelings of fear, worry, sadness
 Significant increase in alcohol/drug consumption
 Mysterious pains, illnesses, or feelings without an obvious origin
 Eating too much/too little
 Increased self-isolation
 Experiencing alternate reality problems, or having false/untrue thoughts
You think you may run the risk of developing a mental health disorder due to hereditary traits – what do you do now?
If you identify with several signs of a mental illness, even without risk factors, you could have a mental illness and should get help, immediately.

  • First, ask your primary care doctor about a mental health
    screening/check-up
  • Symptoms of mental illness can overlap with other physical conditions.
    Changes in sleep could be from a mental disorder or a change in your lifestyle, or an environmental factor. List out what changes you have been going through, be it lifestyle, physical or environmental – your doctor can help you narrow down on what the underlying issue may be
  • If your screening identifies a risk of developing a mental disorder or shows you that you have already developed one, you could get prescribed medications or lifestyle changes by your doctor, or even be referred to a therapist or mental health specialist.
  • Taking medications as prescribed can help with creating a balance with your brain chemicals; however, it is always recommended to seek therapy for a mental health problem, in conjunction with medication. This is important because, therapy will help you learn ways to change how you think, how you feel, and how you interact with yourself and the world around you.


Why See a Psychiatric Genetic Counselor?


For those with a familial history of mental health disorders, a specialized psychiatric genetic counselor can help provide guidance, by navigating you through your mental health journey. Some of the conditions they can help you with can include autism spectrum disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and more. These counselors can also
help you plan for parenthood, by discussing the possibility/risk of your children having mental health disorders, based on your familial history.


What can I do to prepare for my appointment with a specialist?


To get the most out of your mental health appointment, give as much
information as possible with regards to your family’s mental wellness. Ask your specialist to help you map out:
 Your personal mental health history (and current status)
 Family members with mental health problems/symptoms of mental
wellness problems
 What condition(s) is prevalent in your family
 The ages at which these conditions started presenting themselves within different individuals in your family


During this appointment, the specialist can help you take a detailed family history, which will help them gain clarity about the most likely causes of these disorders within your family. They can also help you plan for yourself, as well as for others, based on all the variables described in the information they are given. They can also assist you in developing strategies to help you (and your family) deal with the emotional weight of the risks of mental health disorders, while
providing you with support & guidance through the entire journey.

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Oliver The Brainy Owl

Oliver The Brainy Owl

Oliver, whose musings speak for & to us is our Mascot. Inspired by his namesake the erudite neurologist & writer Late Professor Oliver Sacks, he shares periodically, pearls of wisdom about the brain and mind. Hailing from a long lineage that has been associated with health over millennia, Oliver traces his ancestry to Athena & Minerva the Greek & Roman goddesses of health, philosophy & magic. Not to be mistaken for his comic counterpart...

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We'll ask for some basic information to assess your care needs.