Skip to content

    Depression Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    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.

    The Bipolar Family Tree

    Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic-depressive illness, is another mental illness that often runs in families and may be inherited. If one parent has the disease, a child faces a 15% to 30% risk. If two parents have it, a child’s risk rises to 50% to 75%. Another sign that bipolar disorder might be in the genes: More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with either this illness or major depression.

    People with bipolar disorder have episodes of depression that alternate with bouts of mania or elation. The disease affects men and women equally, but women tend to have more depressive symptoms, while men have more manic symptoms.

    Creating a bipolar disorder family tree might yield clues about whether this illness runs in your family. Bipolar disorder usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can occur during childhood or later in life. Doctors recommend that parents seek an evaluation from a mental health professional if a child or teen shows emotional or behavioral problems.

    Depressed Mothers Need Treatment, Too

    What else can parents do? Get treatment for your own depression, Weissman says, especially if you’re a woman. A depressed mother “is both a genetic and an environmental risk factor,” she says. Children of a depressed parent receive less care and attention and more criticism and exposure to marital strife. “That’s a very stressful environment for the child,” Weissman says.

    In a 2008 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, Weissman reports that when women were treated successfully for depression, their children’s psychiatric problems, such as anxiety and behavior disorders, also improved, compared to the offspring of women whose depression did not lift with treatment. The women who got better became more interested and involved with their children, Weissman says. “There’s a lot you can do about it,” she says of familial depression. “If you can get the mother better and you can also get the child better, that’s a big success.” She is now studying depressed fathers’ effects on their kids.

    Today on WebMD

    contemplation
    Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
    jk rowling
    Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
     
    depressed man sitting on hallway floor
    Learn the truth about this serious illness.
    Sad woman looking out of the window
    Tips to stay the treatment course.
     
    unhappy teen boy
    Health Check
    jk rowling
    Slideshow
     
    Pills with smiley faces
    Article
    Teen girl huddled outside house
    Article
     
    Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
    Article
    antidepressants slideshow
    Article
     
    pill bottle
    Article
    Winding path
    Article