A couple of weeks ago we looked at genetic testing regarding mental illness and how it could impact the treatment of mental illness in the future. But it also brought up the question can mental illnesses be genetic? Can you pass down a mental illness onto your kids and in extended families what are the chances of multiple people dealing a mental illness?
Many factors can cause a mental illness and it’s really hard to work out the exact cause for everyone, with many professionals preferring to treat the illness not the cause.
Genetics - As mentioned in in this article they have yet to find a mental illness gene, but it isn’t to say it doesn’t exist it’s just hard to identify – the current theory is that many genes contribute to causing a mental illness. There are different types of mental illnesses, and some may have more of a genetic component than others. The mental illnesses that have more of genetic component than others are the more severe types such a schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Infections – certain infections can cause brain damage which can then cause or contribute to a mental illness. An example of this is PANDAS (also known at pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder) which is associated with a bacterium and has been linked to the development of OCD and other mental illnesses in children.
Brain Defects or Injury – traumatic brain injury and brain defects in certain parts of the brain can lead to mental illnesses. For example, having a car accident that causes a brain injury may trigger a mental illness.
Prenatal Damage – oxygen supply being cut off during birth, drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, being exposed to certain toxins while in the womb can all contribute to a mental illness.
Substance Abuse – long term use of drugs or alcohol can cause mental illness or contribute to the severity of mental illness. It’s also important to note that using synthetic drugs can alter the brains chemistry.
Other factors – such as being exposed to toxins/chemicals (such as lead) and poor nutrition can play a part in causing mental illness.
Psychological factors can also play a bit role in causing mental illness. These factors vary and can be anything from having a parent die to experiencing severe psychological trauma such as abuse.
Environmental factors are another area that may impact your mental health and can in turn cause a mental illness. These are things like a stressful job or a stressful situation, low self-esteem, changing jobs or schools or even social or cultural expectations (such as a society that sees beauty as thinness may trigger an eating disorder). For some people if they remove themselves from the environment that is causing the mental illness then it reduces or disappears but for other people the environment causes will have a long effect on them and causes a domino effect on the brain. It can also be hard to remove yourself from the environment especially if it’s at workplace or family situation.
It can be hard to really pinpoint a cause of a mental illness and there is still a lot more research to be done into what causes them. For some people it could be a mix of things they might have a family member with a mental illness and then have a situation that triggers, for others they might be fine but then they get a traumatic brain injury, or they have a bad reaction to an illicit substance and for some it just happens and there’s no identifiable cause.
The effects and impacts of a mental illness may last a short period of time or be a lifelong condition you need to manage. It’s also possible to have more than one mental illness at a time with there being a lot of overlap with mental illnesses. An example of this is someone who has anxiety but experiences depressive episodes or someone who has OCD and has anxiety if they don't complete those rituals. It can also be that you may get diagnosed with one mental illness and as that one is treated you find another one or one that fits your symptoms better. As you grow and your life changes, it isn’t uncommon for your mental health and mental illness to change. Mental health is extremely complicated and it’s never straightforward. As mentioned in this post it may take a while to work out which medications works for you as the brain is so complex and there’s not a one size fits all when it comes to treating it.
Something to remember is that you shouldn’t blame yourself if you have mental illness and you shouldn’t focus on finding what caused it, but instead focus on treating it and moving forward.
Feel free to drop by, just say, ‘Hey Erin’ in strict confidence and you can be anonymous if you wish. Or, do not hesitate to leave a question in the comments below any time.