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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Will my anxiety be passed down to my future children?

    Related Topic
    I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia and depression. If I have children will they be affected?
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    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    There is some evidence which suggests that the children of parent(s) with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and/or Major Depressive Disorder are at greater risk  of developing those conditions than are the children of parent(s) without them.

    Probably this partly reflects inheritance of different forms (technically, alleles) of some genes from a child's parent(s). Only a few alleles (there are probably very many of them) have been identified as being associated with MDD and none have yet been linked to GAD. 

    I think that the most important thing that you should know is that genetic determinism ("OMG, it is in my genes; I am doomed.") is a complete myth as far as your future children are concerned in this context.

    Apologies if some of the above comes across as being a bit technical - if you choose to have children then do so with the knowledge that your genes and those of your partner will have a minimal effect on their risk of mental illness :-).

    All the best.

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    Emma Pinn

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I'm a Clinical Psychologist who has expertise working with children, adolescents, young people, and adults in managing anxiety, depression, emotional problems, insomnia, low motivation, and … View Profile

    I agree with Doctor Simon, that there is some genetic role in anxiety, but this shouldn't be interpreted as a sentence for your children, should you have any.

    I think it's important to note that as well as genes playing a role, a parent's behaviour can influence the development of anxiety in their child. Parents who experience anxiety will often express more worries in front of their child, and be over-protective of their child, which can inadvertently instill anxiety in the child. If a child notices that their parent is anxious, it gives the message to the child that there really is something to worry about. Thus, it's important to seek out evidence-based treatment for your anxiety (and depression), to help you manage it, as well as give you the skills you need to model good anxiety management practices for your (future) children.

    Best wishes.

  • Anthony Berrick

    Psychologist

    Of course, your biological children will inherit roughly half of your genes. However, as Simon has explained, your genes don't cause anxiety disorders, but can increase suscepitbility to developing anxiety disorders in the right (or wrong) environment.

    What really matters is the environment you create for your children (i.e. your behaviour, not your genes). As Emma pointed out, your own difficulties with anxiety and depression could potentially cause you to behave in ways that make it more likely for your children to have anxiety problems of their own - but they don't have to.

    If you seek help to understand and effectively deal with your own anxiety issues (seeing a psychologist would be a great start), then there is absolutely no reason why your children should have to struggle with anxiety issues too. 

    I think it would be a wonderful gift for your future children (not to mention for yourself) for you to get treatment.

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