Do Mental Health Issues Run in Families?

photo of a teen daughter together with her parents during family therapy

Perhaps the most common question regarding mental illness is “do mental health issues run in families?”. Given the complexity of mental illness, questions of whether mental illness is hereditary are completely valid. While there is solid evidence that mental disorders run in families, is heredity a major factor in the development of mental health issues? This article will further explore the question of whether mental illness runs in families. We will also discuss other factors which may play a pivotal role in mental illness.

The Role of Genetics in Mental Illness

When asking the question “do mental health issues run in families?” there are strong connections between genetics and mental illness. Scientists have discovered that several mental disorders have hereditary roots. The following are mental illnesses that typically run in families:

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is perhaps the one mental disorder with the most solid ties to genetics. While environmental factors are significant factors of bipolar disorder, it is estimated that around 70-90% of all bipolar cases are attributed to genetic factors. Researchers have found specific mutations within certain genes that increase the likelihood of bipolar developing later in life.


Another mental illness that is strongly associated with genetics is schizophrenia. Some estimates show the disorder to be 70 to 80 percent genetic. Much like bipolar disorder, people with first-degree relatives (family members) with the disorder run an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in their lifetime.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 59 children. ASD is caused by both inherited gene variations as well as de novo gene variations (a process where new genes evolve from DNA sequences that did not have evidence of disease along family lines). In the past decade or so, scientists have discovered hundreds of genes associated with the serious communication deficits, social cognition, and behavior that are seen in children with ASD.

Nature And Nurture

While there are definite correlations between genetics and mental illness in families, it is not the sole underlying factor. Mental illness is a complex disorder, and each person is unique regarding the factors that allow their disorder to form and flourish. The following is a list of common risk factors put together by the American Mental Wellness Association:


  • Family history of mental health problems
  • Complications during pregnancy or birth
  • Personal history of Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Chronic medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes, especially hypothyroidism or other brain-related illness such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Poor nutrition and lack of sleep


  • Stressful life situations, such as financial problems or breaking the law
  • Traumatic life experiences, such as rape or serving in the armed forces
  • Low self-esteem, perceived incompetence, negative view of life
  • Poor academic achievement


  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Being in an abusive relationship or friendship
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships
  • A recent loss, either by death, divorce, or other means
  • Bullying, either as the victim or perpetrator
  • Growing up, or currently living, in poverty
  • Poor social skills, poor communication skills
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of access to support services


  • Perception of being irredeemable or inherently flawed beyond repair
  • Perception of insignificance
  • Conflicting thoughts or doubts surrounding deep religious beliefs

It is important to note that people will react to stress, pain, and risk in different ways. Also important to note that the presence of these risk factors does not mean that people will develop a mental illness.

Don’t Let Mental Illness Devastate Your Life and Your Family

No matter the cause, mental illness can rip apart your life and those you love the most. While living with a mental disorder makes you feel without hope, the help and support you need is just a phone call away. Compassion Mental Health Services is a premier mental health facility that features an integrative and individualized approach to treatment. Our experienced and compassionate staff will design an individualized treatment plan that perfectly fits your needs by drawing from a wide spectrum of traditional and holistic therapies.Don’t wait another day to address your mental health issues. Give you and your family the hope and healing you deserve, and call Compassion Mental Health today.

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