Is Mental Illness Hereditary?

Having a family member with a mental illness may increase the likelihood of developing one yourself. Families can be predisposed to mental illness through genes. 

A mental illness can develop from various reasons or triggers in an individual’s life. Different factors such as traumatic life experiences, possible brain injuries, chronic medical conditions, or stressful life situations can all be examples that lead to one’s mental illness. 

Between the multiple varying factors, genetics and family history are leading influences tied to the matter. There is no overarching answer to one rooted cause in an individual, leaving the ques in determining a person’s risk of inheriting a mental illness very complex. 

What Mental Health Diagnosis are More Likely to Run in Families?

According to the American Psychological Association, five mental illnesses share genetic risk factors – autism, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia

Many of the symptoms present in the five diagnoses overlap, making it difficult to distinguish between the varying illnesses. It is important to note that there is not one disorder that is one hundred percent connected to a genetic or hereditary basis. Taking into consideration an individual’s environment is also essential to factor into their overall diagnosis. 

Statistics and Research

A research study conducted by funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) screened for evidence of illness-associated genetic variation within 33,000 patients. All the participants diagnosed with one of the five disorders were commonly associated with hereditary links. 

In addition, a comparison group made up of 28,000 people had no primary psychiatric diagnosis. One of the calcium channel genes identified in the study was one called “CACNA1C,” which has been previously linked to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder. 

Different parts of the brain circuitry that involves emotion, thinking, attention, and memory are all impacted by the gene and are interrupted in a person with mental illness. Although the genes have been associated with the diagnosis, there is a small amount of risk for a developed disease and can’t be used to predict or diagnose specific conditions. 

Environmental Factors

As multifaceted as it is to connect one diagnosis to a specific reason or cause is, it is known that one’s environment can contribute to an individual’s overall mental state. Below are three significant elements that can provide further support towards causes about mental health: 

  • Trauma: Whether the person has experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, this can likely increase their likelihood of developing a mental illness. Other reasons can include a loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or highly stressful home or financial situations. 
  • Emotional Harm: Long-term emotional damage can develop when people experience circumstances such as bullying, emotional abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, etc. Suppose individuals go untreated from varying emotional harming situations. In that case, it can leave them vulnerable to face overwhelming emotions or scenarios that compel them to cope with damaging behaviors as opposed to healthy alternatives. 
  • Substance Abuse: Individuals who engage in coping by using different substances such as illicit drugs or alcohol can also trigger mental illness, especially in people already at risk due to added factors. 
  • Environmental Exposures Before Birth: Different exposures to environmental stressors such as toxins, inflammatory conditions, or alcohol and drugs while the individual is still in the womb can also affect ones’ risk of being linked to a mental illness once born and growing through different life development stages. 

Genetic Factors

  • Inherited Traits: People can develop mental illness from blood relatives that also have a mental illness by specific genes passed between one another. Different life or environmental situations can trigger a diagnosis that you may already be vulnerable to based on inherited traits. 
  • Brain Chemistry – Brain chemicals work closely with neurotransmitters that carry and send signals to one’s brain and body. When different neurotransmitters become impaired, this impacts the nerve receptors, which overall changes the system. Having the functions of the neurotransmitters change can lead one to depression or other emotional disorders. 

Obstacles with Mental Illness

As common as mental illness is, with one in five adults having a diagnosis, it can lead one towards severe emotional, behavioral, or physical problems. Below is a list of complications that relate to mental illness:

  • Social Isolation
  • Poverty and Homelessness
  • Self-harm and Harm to Others
  • Relationship Difficulties
  • Family Conflicts
  • Overall Unhappiness
  • Missed Work or School
  • Legal/Financial Problems
  • Weakened Immune System


As comforting as it would be to be sure one does not develop a mental illness, unfortunately, there is no guarantee for one to not be at risk due to the numerous factors that can contribute to one. To help manage and control the stress produced by symptoms in one’s life, an individual can follow the steps below to seek temporary relief:

  • Pay attention to warning signs: Understand and learn what might trigger symptoms that arise for you. Develop a plan that you can follow to feel confident in knowing what to do if the symptoms return. 
  • Get routine medical care: Consider contacting your medical physician for regular check-ups and routines, especially if you are not feeling well. You may experience side effects to medications that might need to be treated or addressed.
  • Get help when needed: Long-term care can help with a relapse of symptoms for an individual. Different conditions can be hard to treat if one waits until the symptoms present as severe. Involve trusted family or friends you can include in your overall support system.
  • Self-care: Maintaining healthy sleep hygiene, eating balanced meals, tending to daily personal hygiene, and maintaining a routine is kept to meeting one’s basic needs. Engaging in social and physical activities can help one stay connected to others to avoid withdrawal and isolation. 
Dr. Randall Turner First Light Recovery

Dr. Randall Turner received his medical degree from TUNCOM in Nevada and completed his Psychiatry Residency training at Loma Linda University. He’s board-certified in Psychiatry and also in Addiction Medicine by the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

He and his practice provide services to hospitals and institutions all over California. He has extensive experience with varied populations, including in geriatric psychiatry and addiction medicine. Every day, he strives to thoroughly understand human psychology and psychopathology with the hope of relieving suffering and fostering the growth of those he treats.