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Depression Health Center

Depression: When It’s All in the Family

If depression runs in your family, you can help yourself -- and your children -- identify and cope with the condition.
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Depression: Genes or Environment? continued...

In fact, her study fits into a wider web of work by scientists around the globe who are chasing down possible genetic causes of depression. “There’s a lot of work going on right now,” Weissman says. “Actually, what we’re trying to do is put together all these studies and do a genomewide association study, and that’s under way. That’s been done successfully and identified gene susceptibility for Crohn’s disease and diabetes, and we’re doing the same thing with depression.”

Genomewide association studies have been possible only since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003. Such studies give scientists a new tool in which complete sets of DNA from many people are scanned to find genetic variations that contribute to common and complex diseases, including asthma, cancer, heart disease, and mental illnesses such as depression.

Treating Depression in Families

For Boschee, her brother’s diagnosis of depression during his 30s gave both siblings insight into their father’s unhappiness. In the 1970s, he was a small-town Montana newspaper publisher whose undiagnosed depression led to hopelessness, divorce, and other problems before his death from emphysema at age 50. “He would become incapacitated, unable to get out of bed -- very, very unhappy. He had problems with drug and alcohol abuse,” Boschee says. “He just got taken out of life very easily."

“My dad was this really brilliant, creative guy -- beautiful family, thriving business -- and had every reason to be happy,” she adds. “And when my brother was diagnosed, it suddenly made sense to us why he wasn’t, and it was because he was dealing with an illness.”

When Boschee’s brother became so depressed that he couldn’t concentrate on his job, he joined the roughly 14.8 million American adults who struggle with major depression in any given year. Unlike his father, he sought help and began taking antidepressants. “He was so aggressive in treating it because he has children and he really wants to be there for them,” Boschee says. When his two teenagers developed depression, they, too, got prompt treatment.

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