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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is there any evidence that depression or suicidal behavior runs in families?

    My mother took her own life several years ago after a long battle with depression. I'm a very emotional person, and often worry that depression will also get the best of me.
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1

    Agree

    Richard Hill

    Counsellor, Psychotherapist

    Resident counsellor/psychotherapist at the Davis Health Centre with a solution focused approach; an international lecturer on the neuroscience and psychosocial genomics of human behaviour; author … View Profile

    The concern of family inheritance and passing down of issues is what we call Mendelian sort of heredity, is a great deal of concern to a lot of people. Being an emotional person can certainly give you depressed possibilities but being emotional is also very good. It means you have ups and downs and you move from happiness to not so happiness and that's a good thing. Depression is talking about a persistent state of being down and negative and having low emotional tone. The suicidal aspect is very concerning. There is a degree of understanding of it being genetically related; and there is enormous amount of evidence to show that someone who has had suicide in the family that they are someone to be considered at risk although suicide doesn't have such strong evidence of genetic connection. What you need to focus on more is lifestyle ie: if you have had depression and suicide in the family, how can you make your life happier and more interesting, more satisfying and fulfilling? Use your emotionality to find those things that give you pleasure and joy and focus on those.

  • 1

    Agree

    I have worked with many people in your situation – a family member, especially a parent, has completed suicide, and my (counselling) client fears there’s a risk that they are somehow pre-determined to follow this path too.  It is however important to acknowledge that in some ways your experience, combined with the fact you are asking this question, can have the opposite effect and mean you are less likely to suicide.  I acknowledge here that there is evidence for a higher rate of risk among people who have lost a parent to suicide, which can be attributed to various factors that differ in each case – eg inherited poor coping behaviours, the ‘permission’ the parent’s act gives combined with the emotional trauma the child now carries, and so on.  However, I have worked with bereaved people who have suffered serious depression through their life, including past hospitalisation in psychiatric wards, and who have come to me with their depression under control but having now lost a partner to suicide.  Often such people are scared that because of their powerful grief their depression will resurface, they will be overwhelmed, and they might become suicidal.  Now, while this is not research, but it is my repeated experience, that many of these people prove in the long run to be safe precisely because they are mindful in advance of the potential risks to their emotional well-being and will to live.  Our counselling work includes them ‘getting in early’: developing good mental health practices and a knowledge of how to assess their own emotional well-being.  This is why I say that in your case – for example you are asking this question as an act of ‘getting in early’ – there is the opportunity to decrease the risk of emotional disorder and suicide risk.  For example you could do this through attending counselling with this goal, or through the application of good reading that helps you develop cognitive, behavioural, life-style and other (spiritual? social?) strategies for good emotional health.  Of course Healthshare professionals can help answer any further questions about where to start….       

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