Is Depression Genetic? - Factors & Predisposition

Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

In this lesson, learn about depression and how different factors may predispose a loved one to this illness. Also, take a quiz to see if you have gained awareness of depression.

What is Depression?

Depression is an imbalance of brain chemicals resulting in feelings of extreme sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed for more than a two week period. Approximately 20 million people throughout the United States suffer from depression. Furthermore, one in four teenagers will experience an episode of depression before they reach the age of 24, with females being twice as susceptible to the illness as men.

People who experience clinical depression will do so for more than a two week period.

Depression and the Brain

Depression is a common mental disorder negatively affecting how a person thinks, feels and acts. Different chemicals in our brain, such as cortisol, serotonin and norepinephrine can affect our mood; however, researchers report that they still have a long way to go in understanding just exactly how our brains are impacted by this illness.

Traditionally, many people believe that emotions only belong in our heart; however, scientists from within the mental health field have discovered that emotions begin in our brain, working simultaneously with chemicals and nerve cell connections. It is thought that individuals suffering from depression experience a blockage between the chemicals being released into our brain (cortisol, serotonin and norepinephrine) and the neurotransmitters/nerve cell connections. Healthy adults who do not experience depression will find that the chemicals are routinely released into their brains, causing a less depressed state of mind.

Different chemicals in our brain are carried to nerve cell connections which can increase or decrease our susceptibility to depression.

Symptoms of Depression

If you are wondering if a relative is suffering from depression, there are many symptoms to keep in mind to help determine if they are just experiencing healthy emotions, or extreme, unbalanced emotions.

There are four main symptoms to look for in one's behavior that can indicate an episode of depression:

Loss of Interest in Activities Once Enjoyed

Don't be concerned right away if you know someone who has lost interest in activities once enjoyed. It is especially typical of adolescents to change their interests periodically, as this is a sign of healthy growth and maturity. However, do note if that person is losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed if they have begun isolating. Isolation is a major indicator of depression, in which the person will withdraw from social activities and spend more time by him or herself.

Difficulty Thinking, Concentrating and Making Decisions

If experiencing depression, a person may experience difficulty with thinking, concentrating and making decisions. One of the best ways to examine a child's concentration levels, for instance, is to look at their schoolwork. Missing homework, lower grades and skipping school could be a sign that they are experiencing this mental illness.

Trouble Sleeping or Sleeping Too Much

It can be typical of teenagers especially to enjoy sleeping in, particularly on the weekends! However, monitor your child's sleeping patterns and note any irregularities. Are they having trouble sleeping? Are they looking more tired than usual? Are they sleeping at times when they typically don't sleep? A good example could be if you notice your child suddenly sleeping when they get home from school, when this is not one of their typical behaviors.

Changes in Appetite

Changes in appetite could also indicate a depressed mood. Note the person's eating behaviors and see if they have changed. For example, are they skipping meals or losing weight without dieting? Or are they eating more junk food than usual?

Factors of Depression

Now that we have discussed what depression is and what it looks like, let's examine factors that are associated with the illness. Scientists have not discovered a single cause of depression; moreover, they have narrowed down three areas that can increase a depressed mood. When examining this illness, both researchers and clinicians examine an individual's biological influence, an environmental influence and a psychological influence. This has been coined the biopsychosocial model of psychology. The biopsychosocial model of psychology examines all three areas of an individual's life to determine the potential cause of the depression.

Biological Influences

Biological influences could include the neuro-pathways of the brain and the chemical levels that affect our mood. Scientists have discovered that the hormone cortisol plays a major role when determining whether an individual is feeling depressed or not. When studied on a scientific level, high cortisol levels were found in over half the patients that were studied; among the other brain issues within the chemicals of the neurotransmitters and the message they carry to the neurons.

Environmental Influences

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