Research is revealing how mental illness and genetics can be linked together. This discovery is crucial if you’re concerned about your mental health and how your genes play a role.
But it’s also essential to understand that you shouldn’t let this information scare you away from taking action. Ignoring a potential problem may seem reassuring at the moment, and yet, that doesn’t help you in the future.
Instead, use the information that you can learn from your genetic code to make better choices for your mental health.
So, how do your genes influence mental illness? Firstly, it helps to understand your genes and how they work in general.
Your genes are the building blocks that make you, you. They are comprised of DNA, which has chromosomes inherited from both of your biological parents. Your genes determine your hair color, skin tone, gender, etc. They also play a role in inheriting certain health traits.
For example, if you know relatives have struggled with high cholesterol, you may also have elevated cholesterol levels, too.
Your Genes and Mental Illness
Just as we know that genes play a role in your physical health, the same is true for your mental health. Specific mental health issues can be inherited from one generation to another.
The National Institutes of Health has identified five of them, which include:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
Maybe one or more of your close, biological relatives dealt with one of these mental health issues. In this case, there is a higher risk you may carry the same predisposition. However, just because a family member has a mental illness doesn’t mean you will develop one, too. There are a lot of factors at play, but it does help to understand your family’s mental health history.
The Difference Between Predisposition vs. Having a Mental Illness
Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between being predisposed to having a mental illness and having a mental health diagnosis. The former means that you have a higher likelihood of developing a mental illness. The latter implies that you have been formally diagnosed as having a mental illness.
What does all of this mean? It means that if you are a carrier of certain genetic traits and have a family history of specific mental health issues, then there is the potential you could have the same problem at some point in your life.
Consider All the Factors
Your genes are just one of many factors that determine whether or not you develop a mental illness. Another factor is your life experiences.
For example, if you had a childhood in which you grew up in a supportive and healthy home, that can undoubtedly influence your mental health. Or, having a disruptive childhood where you felt unsafe and experienced trauma would also significantly affect your mental health.
The point here is that your genes are just one factor—although an important one—out of many that influences your health, both physically and mentally.
Genetic Testing for mental illness
If you’re concerned you might carry genes that influence mental illness, then consider genetic testing.
You provide a sample of your DNA, such as a cheek swab, and a lab will analyze your genetic makeup. Check with your physician to see if your medical provider can do this for you. Or, if you choose a private company, do your homework and make sure they’re reputable.
What You Can Do to take control of your mental health
Just because your bloodline predisposes you to mental illness, doesn’t mean you will develop one. There are many things you can do to take charge of your mental health, such as:
- Reduce and manage sources of stress in your life
- Pursue lifelong learning opportunities
- Commit to a nutritious diet
- Develop meaningful relationships
- Play games
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Your genes are important for you to understand who you are. However, they don’t necessarily seal your fate in regards to your mental health. Taking care of yourself helps. Participating in therapy can be useful, too.
If you’re struggling with a mental illness and feel like you want to connect with a high quality Columbus OH counseling practice, please reach out and contact Blue Boat Counseling today. Our skilled Columbus therapists can help you get control of your mental health by implementing practical life strategies combined with therapy to help you be you.