Mental Health

What Mental Health Disorders are Genetic?

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From avoiding stress to eating well, building a strong social support system to seeking professional help, the upsurge in discussions about mental health has equipped many people with tips and tricks with which to maintain a healthy mental state. 

What happens though, when the mental disorder is traceable to a genetic factor? It’s certainly a possibility and we need to be aware of the mental health disorders that have a genetic undertone. This will be particularly worrisome for parents who have already been diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point and are of child-bearing age or have children already.

Mental disorders are a wide range of conditions that cause psychological and behavioural disturbances that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour to different degrees of variety and severity. These disorders include anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, depression, to mention a few and Mental Health Assistance Programs are available to help people who suffer from these conditions.

While research on the inherent link between mental disorders and genetic factors have gone on for over 50 years, the results are by no means conclusive. That said, this article will now highlight five medical conditions that are suspected to be traceable to conditions. These disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

Sometimes, these conditions can have overlapping symptoms making it difficult to differentiate them one from the other. Their shared symptoms however also indicate that the disorders share a biological undertone. For example, recent studies have shown evidence -although limited – that the following conditions share genetic risk factors; schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; autism and schizophrenia; and depression and bipolar disorder. The characteristic definition and the incidence in normal US population (as given by the Institute of Mental Health) are stated below

1.     Schizophrenia

A mental illness characterized by disturbances in thought (delusions),  speech, perception (hallucinations), and behaviour, schizophrenia is hypothesized to affect 1% of the population. While excellent tips on how to maintain satisfactory mental health might help a person with schizophrenia, keep in mind that progress might not be at par with someone else without a genetic undertone to their mental health challenges. 

2.    Bipolar Disorder 

It is a mental disorder characterized by unusual but extreme mood swings featuring high moods (mania) and low moods (depression). Affects 2%-3% of the population, and has a pretty strong genetic link. 

3.     Autism Spectrum Disorder 

This is a neurodevelopmental disorder that results in behavioural challenges and severe impairment of social activity and communication. Affects 1 in 68 children. In later years, it isn’t strange for individuals on the autistic spectrum to be encumbered with mental health challenges. 

4.     Depression 

It is a mood disorder that results in a persistent feeling of sadness and an aversion to even previously interesting activities. Affects 10% of the population, and also has a solid genetic basis. Hence, an individual with a family history of depression should not compare him/herself with another person without a family history, if they both come down with depression. Knowledge of this familial basis can sometimes help people dealing with depression to understand why they might be going through these mental health issues, and how to combat them effectively. 

5.  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

It is a disorder characterized by a continuing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity which interferes with functioning or development  Affects 5%-11% of the population, and is linked to mental health disorders later on. 

Genetic factors shown to have contributed to the development of mental conditions include

1.  Epigenetic regulation: Epigenetics talks about the presence or absence of certain genes. There must be the right combination of environmental factors and epigenetic regulation for a mental disorder to develop.

2.  Genetic polymorphisms: Sometimes, changes occur in the DNA sequence. However, as with epigenetics, the combination of one or more specific polymorphisms and certain environmental factors may lead to the mental disorder

3.  Direct gene changes: This is considered rare but remains a possibility.

Conclusion

Whether you develop a mental health disorder depends on several variables with genetics being just one. Others include microbial exposure during fetal development, nutritional status, stress and emotional trauma. Even with a genetic preponderance, one can still stay mentally fit by focusing on developing a great mental capacity and awareness while taking care of the environmental factors.

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