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Does Depression Run in Families?

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Many people who have suffered from clinical depression, or who have a loved one who suffers from depression, may have noticed that they’re not the only one in their family who has it. It’s very common for major depressive disorder (MDD) to run in families. Depression is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors, which means that the risk of developing depression is higher if someone has a parent or grandparent who suffered from it at some point in their life. 

Genetic Factors Contributing to Depression

There isn’t just one gene that contributes to depression—in one study, researchers identified 269 genes associated with the development of depression. (1) Moreover, there may be a genetic component to how well a person will respond to depression treatment (like medication or therapy), including whether a person will be resistant to treatment (this is called “treatment-resistant depression”). However, more research is needed to fully understand this relationship. (2)

An article published in 2011 in Current Psychiatry Reports reviews past research studies that aimed to identify genetic risk factors for depression. This article acknowledges the impact that genetics has on depression. Depression rates were said to be two to three times higher among people who had a first degree relative with the condition. For example, if you have a father, mother, or sibling that has been diagnosed with depression, you are two to three times more likely to develop depression at some point in your life. (3)

Nature vs. Nurture: How Environment Impacts One’s Risk of Developing Depression

Although certain genes have been linked to depression, it’s still possible to develop depression even if you don’t have a family member with the condition. (And even if someone inherits the genes that are linked to depression, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will develop depression.)  A study published in 2018 observed more than two million offspring in Sweden across multiple generations to find correlations in patterns of depression among families. The study found that a child’s environment influences the risk of developing depression just as much as inherited genetic factors. (4) 

How Depression in Families Impacts Family Dynamics

Living in a home with one or more depressed family members can have a major impact on family dynamics. Depression can make it difficult for someone to get out of bed and complete daily tasks, like brushing one’s teeth or making the kids’ lunch for school. When it feels like a struggle to do even the smallest of tasks, it can affect one’s ability to be a good parent, a good partner, and even perform well at work. 

In children and teens, depression can affect attendance and performance in school and may cause them to avoid social interactions. Kids can feel misunderstood and angry, or even have feelings of extreme worry. Studies show that living in a household with a depressed family member can directly impact the outlook and perspective of others, especially children. (5) 

If you or your partner – or either of your parents or grandparents – have ever suffered from depression, your children are at an elevated risk. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of depression in kids and teenagers. (6) If you suspect that your child may have depression, talk to them about how they’ve been feeling, and take them in to your pediatrician for an evaluation.  And if you’re a parent with depression, consider talking to your physician about your mental health.

Treating Depression

Depression is typically treated using antidepressants and psychotherapy. However, for some people, these treatments do not relieve depressive symptoms. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is FDA-approved to treat patients aged 18 years and older with depression who do not respond to antidepressants. But TMS has also been shown to be a safe and effective treatment in children and teens diagnosed with depression. (7) Learn more about TMS therapy success rates.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with depression and would like to know whether TMS in NYC may help, call our office at 212.731.2033 or contact us online


1. University of Edinburgh. Origins of depression brought into focus in large-scale genetic study. ScienceDaily. Published February 05, 2019. Link. Accessed October 7, 2019

2. Fabbri C., Corponi F., Souery D., Kasper S., Montgomery S., Zohar J., Rujescu D., Mendlewicz J., and Serretti A. The Genetics of Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Critical Review and Future Perspectives. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology. February 2019 1;22(2):93-104. Link. Accessed October 9, 2019

3. Lohoff FW. Overview of the genetics of major depressive disorder. Current Psychiatry Reports. December 2010;12(6):539-546. Link. Accessed October 05, 2019. 

4. Kendler KS, Ohlsson H, Sundquist K, and Sundquist J. Sources of Parent-Offspring Resemblance for Major Depression in a National Swedish Extended Adoption Study. JAMA Psychiatry. February 2018 1;75(2):194-200. Link. Accessed October 9, 2019.

5. Perri Klass. Parents’ depression linked to problems in children. The New York Times Blog. Published May 07, 2012. Link. Accessed October 7, 2019

6.Depression (major depressive disorder). The Mayo Clinic. Published February 03, 20018. Link. Accessed October 05, 2019.

7. Krishnan C, Santos L, Peterson MD, and Ehinger M. Brain Stimulation. Safety of noninvasive brain stimulation in children and adolescents. Link

Dr. David Woo

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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