The facts, The Science

Causes and Concerns- the genetic argument

Ever feel like screaming “Why me??!” when your having a low day, or even a manic one?

Study’s are now showing a stronger link between your mental health and previous generations in your family. With an increasing understanding of mental health issues now then there ever has been, more information is becoming available outlining why we have these disorders/ issues.

Please do not instantly think this is a blog laying blame directly to my parents or your parents etc, every person has a different scenario and not all rules apply to everyone. I think summaries the key associated causes for mental illness:

  • Heredity (Genetic)
  • Biology
  • Psychological trauma
  • Environmental Stressors

Before we move onto the difficult argument of genetic traits, lets review the other three elements.


This can include but is not limited to some form of damage to certain parts of the brain, or a chemical imbalance with the neurotransmitters that send messages to your brain (which in the case of mental illness the messages can get crossed over). Web MD notes that “tweaking” these chemicals can be done with medication and psychotherapy. They also include infections within the biological causes, including Streptococcus which if caught when a baby and can possibly have links to the child having subsequent illnesses including forms of mental health disorders.

Psychological Trauma

Though medicine net outlines psychological trauma as a child being a cause of mental illness, I would argue that you do not have to necessarily be a child for this to happen- think soldiers with PTSD. The main traumas that commonly crop up in multiple sources include sexual or physical abuse, loss, neglect, poor socialization as a child or financial loss.

Environmental Stressors

By “environmental” they reference the people and surroundings around you. Some of the elements for this can cross/ blend into the category of Psychological trauma. Environmental stress can include but is not limited to substance abuse (by the individual or by a parent/ carer), cultural and social expectations (i.e “skinniness” being associated to beauty), dysfunctional family life or instability and upheaval (i.e relocating homes/ schools repeatedly).

The three above categories have been the main focus of causes of mental health for a long time, however now that more and more is being learnt about illness there is an increasing argument to say that there are strong genetic traits. I will lay out some of the sources I have come across- these are just a few of a wide range out there.


Genetics is the study of genes, variations and heredity links in living organisms. Some physical illnesses can be tracked as heredity (traits passed from parent to child through genetics, this can be as simple as eye colour or hair colour but can run deeper), the most commonly referenced are cancers such as breast cancer, but there are plenty of physical illnesses that can be traced through family lineage.

It is now becoming more apparent that similar to this there are more indications that mental illness can also be carried through our genetics. If a parent has a mental illness it may mean that you are more predisposed/ susceptible to have one as well but it may not manifest in all cases. Most argue that genetics alone will not necessarily result in mental illness and the require one of the other causes to trigger it, though having the genetic predisposition for mental illness does height the likelihood of it manifesting.

One study run in conjunction with the US National Institute of Health identified that one genetic code reviewed in test subjects (CACNA1C) was known to affect the brains circuitry involved in emotion, thinking, memory and attention, showing signs of variation in those with mental illness. This genetic code variation was prevalent in parent and child who both had a mental condition. One other study identifies a glutamate receptor gene (GRM3) which responds to the brains neurotransmitters as being trait found in schizophrenic patients, and it being possible to be tracked through families.

What all studies I have read have in common is that they all find different genetic links, and believe that it is not just one that results in heredity mental illness, it is in fact multiple genetic “anomalies”. A lot of information indicates links with bi-polar and schizophrenia genetic traits being similar and can be tracked in a similar nature. One interesting article on Bustle breaks down different mental conditions and discusses points relating to the genetic traits related to each disorder. Under Bipolar I was surprised to find that if your family has Bipolar 2 traits you are likely to develop either BP 1 or BP 2, however if your family member has BP 1 then there is a less likely chance of genetic transfer. Reference to a study at the John Hopkins University found that 40% of patients studied with BP 2 had relatives with BP 2.

There are dozens/ hundreds/ thousands more studies out there that show hereditary links and as stated above the majority of those that I have read agree that it is not just the hereditary markers that result in the illness such as bi-polar, but also at least one additional factor such as biological, environmental or psychological. It seems fair to say though that there is a strong prevalence of family ties with mental illness. In my case my mum was treated for depression due to the loss of her mum when she was in her late teens, knowing what I now know about bi-polar disorder I would argue that in her case she has the disorder to, it just manifests in a different way in her than it does in me. I know one of her sisters is treated for depression as well, which makes you wonder did they have a genetic predisposition to mental illness as well, something we will never know unfortunately, but based on the studies I have read it would not be a far stretch to assume it was likely.

I must reiterate that this blog is not a blame game for who I am, I just want people reading it to realize- it is not just you, there are medical reasons- it is not your fault, there are reasons that can be identified and treated. Hold in there please!! I know its hard, and you do scream to yourself “Why me?!” but bare with it! Please.

1 thought on “Causes and Concerns- the genetic argument

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.