Can Mental Illness Run in My Family? Does Mental Illness Run in Families?
Researchers have long focused on the causes of mental illness. In some cases, people avoid discussing their mental health. However, more and more people struggle with depression and anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, and many other mental health problems. Let’s figure out whether or not a mental illness can run in your family and what you can do to protect your mental health.
Is Mental Illness Hereditary?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five individuals in the U.S. lives with a mental illness. Researchers have concluded that mental illness is hereditary. However, there are many other forces at play. Scientists have not identified a specific gene associated with mental illness yet, but they concluded that you have a higher chance of developing mental illness if one of your biological family members was diagnosed with one.
In short, mental illnesses do run in families. However, this doesn’t mean you will develop the same mental disorder or that it will be as severe. The reason is that mental illnesses are not only a result of genetic factors but also environmental ones.
There is no single gene associated with mental illnesses. Although the likelihood of developing a mental illness is higher if someone in your family also has a mental disorder, you won’t necessarily develop it or have the same symptoms. Mental disorders are caused by how genes express themselves and how you interact with your environment.
One of the most important factors is your development. When children develop, they experience both positive and negative aspects of life, and their experiences can determine their emotional development. Although a troubled childhood is more likely to lead to mental health disorders in a child or later in life, some people had a fantastic childhood but are still diagnosed with a mental illness.
If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, whether they are an adult or a child, make sure to contact a mental health specialist. Once you have a diagnosis, talk therapy, and in some cases, medication can help you stop the progression of the mental disorder. The later you reach out for help, the more challenging it becomes to control your mental health issues.
Apart from genetic factors and development, environmental factors can also impact us. Here are some of the most common triggers:
- Going through a major life event, such as divorce;
- Low self-esteem, anger, loneliness;
- Substance abuse;
- Death of a loved one;
- Changing a job or school;
- Unrealistic social or cultural expectations (i.e., social expectations of being skinny may lead to eating disorders.)
Can You Reduce Your Risk of Developing a Mental Illness?
Although there is a likelihood of developing a mental illness if someone else in your family is diagnosed, there are many things you can do to avoid it. Mental disorders are similar to other diseases that affect your body.
For instance, if your mother had an ulcer, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have it, too, but how you care for yourself, your diet, and your lifestyle determine whether you can develop or avoid it. No one should feel bad for having any disease, so you shouldn’t be ashamed of your mental health issues. To reduce your risk of developing a mental illness, you can do a few things to take care of your mental health.
A healthy diet protects both your body and your mind. Your brain requires nutrients to stay healthy and maintain its normal functioning, so food is extremely important if you want to decrease your risk of developing a mental illness.
Regular exercise is extremely important, too. Exercising allows you to relax and unwind, and it has a positive effect on your overall health. If you struggle to maintain a regular exercise schedule, you can approach it creatively — walk to work, take a new route, walk with a friend, take stairs instead of elevators, or run along with your dog when taking it for a walk.
Sleep is extremely important to your mental and physical health. It is recommended to sleep 7 to 8 hours per night. Try to decrease your device usage before going to sleep. For example, you can read a book instead. If you have problems with falling asleep, seek professional help. Insomnia is linked to numerous mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, and it has proven to worsen their symptoms.
Maintain Good Relationships
To maintain your mental health, spend more time with your friends and family. Schedule meetings with them, try a new hobby together and have meaningful conversations. People in our life are important for our mental health.
A great way to help you maintain good relationships and stay grounded is to help and support others. This could mean helping your friend or a small act of kindness towards a stranger. Volunteering may also help you improve your mental health and well-being. You can help a neighbor, donate some of your goods to people in need, or ask your friends and family if they need any help.
Keep Your Mind Busy
Learn a new skill or take on a DIY project to improve your home. These projects make us feel good about ourselves and boost self-confidence when we achieve a difficult task. You can challenge yourself to learn a new language, learn to draw, or do any other activity that might interest you. This will also allow you to connect with other people with the same interests as you so you can make new friends.
Keep Stress Levels Low
Nowadays, stress is a common part of our daily life. Whether we have a stressful job, a stressful event is coming up, or we worry about our loved ones, there always seems to be a way for stress to impact us. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to cope with stress. Instead, you can try some of the options above to handle it, such as starting a new activity to keep you busy. Call your friends and family if you feel lonely or stressed, and allow them to provide support.
Mental illnesses in families are possible. However, there are many things you can do to protect your mental health. Having a healthy lifestyle, diet, sleeping, and trying new hobbies can make us feel better, improve our self-confidence, and maintain our health.
Of course, it’s also important to recognize when lifestyle factors are insufficient. If you genuinely think you might have symptoms of a mental condition (not necessarily an illness), it’s always wise to seek professional evaluation. For example, a private ADHD assessment can help you answer that question once and for all.
If you need help, you can always opt for therapy with a trained professional to navigate difficult times. A licensed therapist can provide all the support you need to improve your well-being, and if you still hesitate, you can learn more about the benefits of therapy.
Although in-person therapy may not be a convenient option for people with busy schedules, everyone can benefit from online therapy platforms like Calmerry, which enable you to get the necessary help and support without needing to commute to a therapist’s office.