Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size

Can depression be inherited?

Answer by:
WebMD Expert


Depression is highly familial, which means it can run in families and may be transmitted by genes. When a parent has depression, a child faces about a two- to three-times increased risk of becoming depressed compared to a child without a depressed parent. If the parent developed the mental illness before age 20, the child’s risk rises even higher. Depression in second-degree relatives, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins, carries a much lower familial risk.

"Risk" doesn't mean that an outcome is inevitable.   Not all kids or adults who have a depressed parent -- or even have both parents that are depressed -- necessarily get depression themselves. Even if a person's identical twin, who has the exact same genetic makeup, had depression, that person's risk for developing depression isn't much more than 50%. So other factors besides genetics must play a role. 

Depression is a complex disorder in which genes, environment, and other factors such as personality or other psychological features all  play a role. So far,  research suggests genetic vulnerability that makes some people more likely to develop depression.  However, unlike "purely" genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs, there probably isn't one single gene that causes depression.  Rather, there are probably many different genes that each exert small effects which can add up to an overall genetic risk for depression.