Question: My mother and sister both have had serious problems with depression and anxiety. Is this hereditary? Should I be worried?
-Joe R., Jackson Heights, NY
Answer: There is a lot of research being done on this topic. It is definitely more common to have a mental illness if someone else in your immediate family does. Understanding why that is where it gets complicated. Research has shown a hereditary biological factor to many mental illnesses. However, in addition to biological factors, there are also important social factors that play a role in mental illnesses. For example, if someone was laid-off of their job then they would be more likely to be depressed. Similarly, growing up and/or living with others that have a negative outlook on life can influence your own view of the world and methods for coping with challenges.
The bottom line is that while there are some hereditary and social factors, every person and situation is unique. If you think you might have a mental illness, as usual, I recommend getting an evaluation from a professional. Also, there are many support groups and programs for family members of those with mental illnesses. A great resource for this in New York is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).