5 Ways Your Family History Affects Your Mental Health

5 Ways Your Family History Affects Your Mental Health

When it comes to mental health/brain health, your family history matters. Scientific research has shown that having family members with depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, or dementia, increases your risk.

5 ways psychiatric issues in your family make you more susceptible to mental health issues.

1. Genetic makeup

Your genetic makeup can increase your vulnerability. For Celina, 36, compulsiveness and other issues seemed to run in the family. She was a perfectionist, had repetitive negative thoughts, and had to have all the shirts in her drawer buttoned a certain way or she’d get very upset. Her 8-year-old daughter Lisa had a locking compulsion—every time someone left the house, Lisa would be right behind them to lock the door. Then there was Celina’s 10-year-old son Samuel. Once he got a thought in his head, he couldn’t get it out and he would follow his mom around the house asking her the same questions for hours.

All three of them underwent brain SPECT imaging studies to see if there might be a genetic component to their problems. The brain scans showed that all three of them had overactivity in an area called the anterior cingulate gyrus.

2. Added stress

When there are mental health challenges in your family, it’s likely that you were exposed to stressful situations throughout your lifetime. Growing up in a stressful home life or being subjected to abuse from a parent or relative increases the likelihood of developing depression or anxiety.

3. Epigenetics

A new field of genetics called epigenetics shows that our habits and emotions can impact our biology so deeply it actually causes changes in the genes that are transmitted to the next several generations. This means the stress associated with mental health challenges in your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents actually altered your genes to become more susceptible to trouble. In addition, if your ancestors ate poor diets, were exposed to environmental toxins, lived with chronic stress, or didn’t get eat healthy prenatal nutrition, it changed their genes—and subsequently, yours—to be more likely to express mental health problems.

4. When family members self-medicate

If the members of your family self-medicate with harmful substances—think alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, marijuana—or by engaging in bad habits, you are more likely to adopt some of these same behaviors. After all, exposure equals preference. These habits contribute to mental health/brain health issues. In addition, in children and grandchildren of alcoholics, childhood trauma resets the activity in their brains to a higher-than-normal level, setting them up for emotional problems later in life.

5. Lack of love for the brain

When your family members don’t love themselves and don’t love their brain enough to change their behavior, you may also find it hard to learn to love yourself enough to engage in a brain-healthy lifestyle. This puts your brain and mental wellbeing at risk.

How to Overcome Genetic Risk for Mental Health

Having a genetic risk is not a death sentence; it should be a wakeup call for you to know your vulnerabilities and get serious about taking care of your brain. 

Think of it this way. Your genes load the gun, but it’s your behavior and environment that pull the trigger. Engaging in a brain healthy lifestyle can help “turn off” or “turn down” the genes that make you more vulnerable to mental health issues.

And remember, it’s not just about you, it is about generations of you. By reducing your risk, you also alter the genes of your children, grandchildren, and beyond to make them less susceptible to problems.

If your family history has put you at risk or is contributing to mental health/brain health issues, understand that at Amen Clinics, we treat the whole person. In addition to our leading-edge brain imaging work, we also assess the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors that influence your life and either contribute to psychiatric disorders or help heal them.

For more information about how we can help, reach out today to speak with a specialist at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.


  1. Nothing will ever improve in this country until I’ll is excepted as a real illness.

    Comment by Ruth — July 3, 2019 @ 3:41 AM

  2. Great article.This I can relate to with a parent who was a a drinker.I had issues in my 40 after a traumatic divorce and separation of my kids.I married a abusive man verbally and physical. Problem now I married second time a drinker and my life now is good and bad depending on his drinking.Fyi I don’t need to drink to have fun.

    Comment by Bev — July 3, 2019 @ 4:33 AM

  3. Does having an alcoholic father who smoked and flew many bombing missions into Germany in ww2 causeADD and depression?He died 44 of a massive heart attack I was 9.

    Comment by Jonathan fedako — July 3, 2019 @ 4:45 AM

  4. Dr. Amen, have you considered making your supplements available in smaller size capsules? I, along with many senior citizens, find it difficult to swallow large pills. I would prefer to take more pills than be unable to use your high quality products. Please think about making your products in a size needed by people who have this problem!

    Thank you!
    Jeanne Michaels

    Comment by Jeanne C. Michaels — July 3, 2019 @ 5:44 AM

  5. One of my member family thinks I hacked his email or me or my family did some thing to hurt him or video tape him always has wrong thinking about his family that love him so much that happens after he went through a lot of stress and depression so what can I do to help he doesn’t want to do any thing a bout it and a lot of things I can’t write all can u tell me if this is by polar or something else please please email me let me know

    Comment by Wafa Talia — July 3, 2019 @ 5:49 AM

  6. How can one take care of his or her brain if there is genetic risk on the brain?

    Comment by Appolonia — July 3, 2019 @ 5:59 AM

  7. Informative reading , thank you . My mother has had dementia for 10years . For the last 4 years she
    Has been 100% dependent . She suffered with
    Bouts of depression through out her life and
    Worried for the world . I am like her in many ways , I
    I have been taking sertraline for 12 years . I don’t
    Even know what they do for me now . I’m
    Concerned that I will get dementia too as I’m
    Forgetting words or they are not coming as quick as
    They use to. I’m English and live in England .

    Comment by Janet Evans — July 3, 2019 @ 8:34 AM

  8. I love your info, but cannot afford the brain spect. I am 75 and most likely have been suffering from PTSD most of my life due to childhood abuse and religious indoctrination with a cult, my mum was mentally unstable growing up. I see that you talk about biofeedback. I have taken 13 sessions with Nurofeedback here in Ontario Canada. The results are quite outstanding. Please contact me at Valpal@ Rogers.com with some info about why you use biofeedback and not Nurofeedback. Thank you for your website valerie

    Comment by Valerie palmer — September 6, 2019 @ 8:22 AM

  9. I did not know that compulsiveness and negative thoughts seem to run in families. My brother is experiencing some serious issues with compulsion, while his own son is showing signs of the same. It is to the point of affecting his lifestyle. When he gets in touch with a psychiatrist, I am sure that he can begin to heal in as many ways as they can help.

    Comment by Vivian Black — January 4, 2022 @ 6:49 AM

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