When meeting with a new healthcare professional, they often ask us for our family history. In the past we may only relay physical ailments that are prevalent in our loved ones, but it is becoming more common to also share mental health disorders that show up in our family. But how much does genetics play into mental health disorders? Although complicated, the answer provides more insight into the intricacies of mental health and family dynamics. In this blog we discuss mental health in the family, causes of mental health disorders, and how much genetics plays a role in our overall mental health.


Families are complicated, and when we start looking into family history, it becomes even more intricate. You may have an uncle Bob who is in active recovery from substance use disorder, or maybe your grandmother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. No family is without a history of mental health disorders – or if they are, it is very rare.

There is a wide range of mental health conditions that you may have in your family. Some of the more common conditions are mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance use behaviors. Although there have been studies completed regarding the role genetics play in diagnosis, it is still undetermined how much of a factor they play in determining the risk of mental health disorders when paired with other risk factors. So what can cause mental health disorders in our loved ones?


When determining the factors behind an individual’s diagnosis, there is much to consider. Is there a family history? Have they experienced a traumatic experience in their life? What kind of childhood did they experience? If you have multiple family members experiencing a mental health disorder such as depression or substance use disorder, you may be more susceptible to a similar diagnosis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience that same mental health issue. It can be difficult for doctors to determine a person’s risk of inheriting a mental health disorder or passing on the disorder to their children. There are a number of factors they consider when diagnosing a patient including behaviour, trauma, and genetics. In fact, when more than one factor is causing a disorder it is referred to as multifactorial inheritance (University of Rochester Medical Center).

There are a number of potential risk factors for developing a mental heath disorder some of which include the following:
Genetics / Inherited – Mental health disorders are more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental health diagnosis. It is important to note however this increased risk factor doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop that particular disorder yourself.

Environmental Factors – You may develop a mental health disorder from exposure to a stressful situation in your environment. If you have experienced a traumatic event, this could also trigger a change in your mental health. If you are experiencing troubles financially or are dealing with a sick relative, these can have a major impact on your mental health.

Biological – Chemicals in our brain can have extreme effects on mood disorders. When the neural networks involving these chemicals are impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems change, leading to depression and other emotional disorders. This may be caused at birth, if you have experienced a physical injury, or if you have repeatedly been exposed to drugs and/or alcohol.

Despite the research concluded by many professionals around the world, determining the exact cause of a mental health disorder can be a challenge. Mental illness is common for many individuals. About 1 in 5 Canadians (that’s 6.7 million) are affected by mental illness each year (cmha). It is important to remember that mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time either through their own experience, or that of a family member, friend or colleague.

Families are complicated, and so are the factors behind determining the cause of a mental health disorder. Genetics may play somewhat of a role when it comes to diagnosis, but they are often triggered by trauma or other behavioral influences. If you would like to discuss mental health disorders, or family dynamics with our team, or talk to a professional for more information, please contact us HERE.