Is Depression Hereditary? Understanding and Addressing the Causes of Major Depression

If you’ve watched a parent struggle with depression, experiencing depressive symptoms can be especially scary. You may start to wonder, is depression hereditary? Because life experience and other factors can be passed down through families, a parent’s depression can deeply affect you in many ways. But no matter its root causes, your depression is treatable. Get comprehensive treatment at a residential treatment center now to stop your depression in its tracks. Getting help and having hope are key to long-lasting recovery.

When Luke was a kid growing up, his father Andre had a lot of ups and downs while battling major depression. Once, when he lost his job, Andre had stayed in bed for two full months, getting better only when his wife pushed him to go to treatment.

After Luke left for college, he found himself feeling listless, missing classes, and avoiding new friends and old. He thought freshman year would be fun, but instead, Luke began to feel more and more like he’d never enjoy anything ever again.

Then he realized something that shook him to his core. He’d seen these symptoms before—in his father.

He wondered, what if he had inherited depression from his dad? Was it genetic, and therefore unavoidable? He began to feel more hopeless than ever.

Then he remembered how his father went to treatment and, eventually, got better. Luke decided he’d had enough. Determined to finish college, he called a residential treatment facility and took his first step toward recovery.

Is Depression Hereditary?

A lot of people can relate to Luke’s story. If you’ve watched a parent struggle with depression, you may be afraid of becoming depressed yourself. Living with a depressed parent can be very stressful, especially for children. In extreme cases, a parent’s depression can even be traumatic for a child—and the effects of that trauma could affect you well into your adulthood.

If this all sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016 16.2 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode. This represents 6.7 percent of our country’s adult population—a huge number of people. And although these numbers are high, they aren’t hopeless. Even if you have watched a parent struggle with depression—and even if you suspect you’ve begun to follow in their footsteps—your situation is far from hopeless. A family history of depression can be a complicating factor, but it’s not a life sentence.

While experts don’t know the exact causes of depression, they understand enough about it to diagnose and effectively treat it. Depression does seem to run in families, which suggests certain genes may increase the likelihood a person may experience it. However, the exact genes that cause it have not been identified yet. While genetics are important, there are other factors at work as well.

How Life Experience Can be Passed Down Through Families

Families tend to pass behaviors, trauma and emotional conflicts down through generations. They do it in two ways: through epigenetics and through behavior modeling.


Epigenetics is the study of inheritable, visible changes that don’t change DNA itself. Traumatic experiences are known to alter an individual’s lifelong mental health. Healthy brain development requires a combination of environmental factors, in addition to a person’s genetics. Our experiences can actually interact with our biology itself. And this information can be passed down from parent to child. For example, if a mother experiences a traumatic event such as a car crash, some of the psychological consequences of that event may have changed the mother’s biology and, in turn, may be passed down to her child.

Behavior Modeling

People learn by watching others. We all do it. If a coworker has ever taught you how to fix a printer or reset a password, you’ve learned a skill through behavior modeling. This is especially true in infants and children who get first learn about the world through their parents. Kids copy their parents’ behaviors all the time, from learning to talk to shaving like daddy. And if a parent models certain reactions to stress—including depressive behaviors—kids can pick up on those behaviors, too.

Trauma can be a factor here as well. Patterns of neglect and abuse can negatively affect multiple generations of a family, and if one or both of your parents followed such patterns, the probability that the consequences of their actions have left a lasting psychological impression on you is high. If this is the case in your family, it’s doubly important to seek treatment as soon as possible—both to resolve your depressive symptoms and to address the long-term effects of any childhood trauma you may have experienced.

And, if you are also a parent, you have yet one more reason to seek treatment. The sooner you do, the less likely it will be that your own children will model your depressive behaviors in the future. It’s also your chance to show them what to do if they should experience depression—or any other mental health issue. Acknowledging and accepting help when you need it is one behavior you can model for them now that can benefit them greatly in the years to come.

Remember: no one has to suffer alone or in silence. One-on-one therapy, support groups, and residential treatment centers are all excellent sources of support and healing guidance. To ensure lasting recovery, however, nothing beats round-the-clock care at a residential treatment center.

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Get Comprehensive Treatment at a Residential Treatment Center

When you enter residential treatment, you surround yourself in a comprehensive healing environment. You’ll receive the care you need, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And you’ll get all the tools you need to stop an emotional crisis and to make lasting progress.

When you arrive, you’ll receive a full assessment of your condition. Then, a treatment plan will be designed specifically for your needs. A psychiatrist will prescribe any medications you may need, or adjust a current prescription that isn’t working. You may receive antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs that can make your symptoms more manageable. Then you’ll begin a variety of healing therapies.

You’ll have private, one-on-one therapy with your own therapist. Family members can visit and engage in family therapy sessions, and you can participate in group therapy, where you’ll meet other people dealing with the same feelings and problems you’re facing. Holistic therapies like music and art therapy or yoga can help you work through complicated feelings and find inner peace and stability. That’s the key to comprehensive residential treatment—you’re healing yourself as a whole person, not just the part of you that is depressed.

Getting Help and Having Hope

By taking the time to focus on your depression in a safe, structured environment, you can truly begin to address and, ultimately, move beyond those feelings of hopelessness to a place of greater emotional resilience and even joy. After leaving residential treatment, Luke went back to college feeling refreshed, relaxed and much more prepared to cope with his new life as a full-time student. Neither his depression nor his father’s could hold him back from graduating—with honors.

No matter what you or your family has been through, there’s hope. Caring mental health professionals are always available to listen to you and offer guidance. The right residential treatment program can provide exactly the supportive environment you need to nurture you through even the darkest depression. Reach out for help today and begin moving forward toward a brighter tomorrow.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.