Is mental health hereditary?

Some mental health conditions have been linked to biological, or hereditary factors. However, it’s not the only determinant when it comes to developing the illness or disorder. Experts agree that mental health conditions are caused by a combination of biological, environmental and psychological factors. Explore this topic further with these insights from Bloom and you will be able to answer: is mental health hereditary?

Causes of mental health disorders

There are a number of biological causes of mental health disorders. Some of these include the following:

  • Genetics. So the answer to the question: is mental health hereditary is yes. Mental illness is hereditary. This means that the risk factor is passed on to biological family members through genes. However, it is possible to inherit the gene for a mental illness and never develop it. This is because the manner in which one reacts with their immediate environment or psychological stressors will be a determining risk factor. Your risk factor for developing a certain mental disorder, like depression, would increase if you suffered a mental trauma during childhood or if you grew up in a dysfunctional family unit, for instance,
  • Illness and infections. There are infections that can cause brain damage and the development of certain mental illnesses. AIDS, for instance, has been linked to the onset of mental disorders.
  • Brain injury or defects. Traumatic brain injury can cause several types of mental disorders, like Bipolar Affective Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Some studies have suggested a link between the disruption of early foetal brain development and some mental conditions, like autism.
  • Substance abuse. Long-term substance abuse, like alcoholism, has been linked to a number of mental disorders, like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Poisoning. There are some rare instances, where mental disorders have been caused by exposure to harmful toxins, like lead or mercury, which can lead to psychotic episodes.
  • Psychological factors that may contribute to a mental illness, include severe psychological trauma, like emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
  • Environmental factors also play a part in raising the risk factors in a person who has a predisposition to mental illness. Some of these factors include social or cultural expectations, like society’s obsession with a certain type of beauty standard, or a dysfunctional family unit where one primary caregiver could suffer from substance addiction.

Is mental health hereditary? These 4 disorders can be inherited

The question around “is mental health hereditary” is a common one. While it’s important to note that the development of a mental health illness or disorder is a combination of many factors, studies have found that these five disorders are likely to have a strong genetic component, which means you are at greater risk of developing one of these mental health disorders if a biological family member had one.

  1. Bipolar disorder. This disorder is characterised by extreme mood swings where the patient alternates between severe depression and hypomania. The World Health Organisation confirms that up to 40 million people have experienced bipolar disorder. The risk for developing this condition is higher if you have a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, with the condition.
  2. Anxiety. This is a very common mental illness where those who are affected are overwhelmed by fear and worry, which disrupts their daily functioning and causes emotional distress. The WHO estimates that more than 300 million people are affected by anxiety disorders. There are several different types including:
  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

Anxiety disorders run in families and those people with a susceptible gene, as well as environmental and psychological stressors, can develop one of these disorders.

  1. Depression. Depression is another common mental health illness. Approximately 350 million people are affected worldwide. Symptoms include prolonged feelings of sadness, which can significantly impact one’s quality of life. It can also lead to poor social interactions, substance abuse and suicide ideation or attempts. Experts have noted that depression can run in families, especially if one has a close relative who has experienced the condition. Some of the genes that have been identified as possible causal factors are those that regulate neurotransmitters, like the serotonin transporter gene.
  1. Schizophrenia. The WHO confirms that schizophrenia affects one in 300 or 24 million people worldwide. The disorder usually presents in late childhood or early adulthood and is medically defined as a psychosis. Those who are affected experience delusions and hallucinations, which means they often suffer from antisocial behaviour and have difficulty with daily functioning. There are strong hereditary links with schizophrenia. If a close family member has the condition, your risk of developing the condition increases by 10%.

Reduce your risks of developing a mental health condition

While mental illness may be hereditary, it certainly doesn’t mean you will automatically develop a disorder. You can significantly reduce your risks of developing a disorder or condition, provided you take good care of your mental and physical health. Some ways that you can reduce your risk include:

  • Manage your stress levels. Don’t allow stress to become overwhelming. Find effective coping strategies to deal with stress. Try practising mindfulness, meditation or breathing exercises to calm your body and mind.
  • Watch your diet. Eat healthy, balanced meals. Remember that what you eat affects your physical and mental well-being. Include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre in your diet. Cut out or limit alcohol consumption.
  • Engage in regular exercise. Exercise can improve your mood, which will help you feel better. It also helps relieve stress, improves physical performance and ensures better sleep quality. Strive to achieve 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week.
  • Ensure your get quality sleep. Adults need about six to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Poor sleep quality could cause both physical and mental problems.
  • Reach out for support. Mental health problems can be managed if you have support. Speak to those who you trust for emotional support, or reach out to a professional counselling service for expert advice.

Momentum Health4Me benefits for mental health illnesses

The Momentum Health4Me Gold health plan offers a specialist benefit in the day-to-day health insurance cover. Under this benefit, you may visit a mental healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. Each consultation is limited to a maximum of R1,000 (R2,000 per member, per year).

Bloom and Momentum Health4Me understand the need for good mental health services. Members have access to confidential, multilingual counselling support services on a toll-free number. Adults can receive support for personal or work-related issues. Children and teenagers can receive counselling that covers preventive and proactive interventions for emotional problems. There is also a specialised trauma and critical incident counselling service for those who have suffered a traumatic incident, like the loss of a loved one. Momentum Health4Me members are encouraged to download the Momentum Wellness App for more mental health resources. Find out how you can support someone suffering from a mental health condition.

Health insurance with comprehensive cover

Good mental health is essential for quality living. Mental illness and disorders should not be ignored. If you or a loved one are suffering from poor mental health, it’s important that reach out and receive specialist support. Fortunately, there are support services available with comprehensive health care cover. Get affordable medical insurance by contacting our office to set up an appointment with a trained consultant.

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You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.

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