Depression may come from your mother

You’ve probably heard or even used the phrase “like mother like daughter,” because it’s very often the case. Moms and daughters commonly share similar traits, like eye color, face shape, and yes, even personality.

It’s also well known that parents can pass down certain health issues to their children, but until now, little was known about the hereditary components of mental health. However, a new study may have made a huge leap forward in uncovering the link specifically between a mother’s mental health and her daughter’s.

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The University of California, San Francisco just published research on the subject in the Journal of Neuroscience, which suggests depression is something a daughter can inherit from her mother. There is a part of the brain called the corticolimbic system which regulates emotions, and for whatever reason, its structure is usually more similar in mothers and daughter than mothers and sons or fathers and their children. This system is rather complex, but it contains the areas of the brain out of which depression can surface.

The researchers discovered this mental link between mother and daughter by comparing the MRI scans of 35 healthy families. There was a decided similarity between the corticolimbic systems of most mothers and daughters represented.

Now before you call up your therapist and go, “See? I was right! It IS all my mother’s fault!” you should know that the researchers are not saying genetics are wholly responsible for your mental health. If you currently suffer from depression, there are many other variables that could play into the why of it, not just your mother’s brain. In fact, the environment you grew up in could have much more to do with it than your maternally inherited genes. So in that way I guess you can go back to blaming mom.

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Lead author Fumiko Hoeft, M.D., Ph.D., a UCSF associate professor of psychiatry, wrote on the subject, “Many factors play a role in depression — genes that are not inherited from the mother, social environment, and life experiences, to name only three. Mother-daughter transmission is just one piece of it.”

Based on how similar my mom and I are, both personality-wise and mental health-wise, this link makes perfect sense to me. We’re both highly emotional beings (aka we cry at any commercial involving a puppy), and don’t do terribly well with major life changes. We have each suffered from anxiety and depression at different points in our lives. However, rather than blame her for my struggle with it, I thank her constantly because her experience with it helped me cope much faster.

She taught me the importance of therapy, and being incredibly open about what you’re going through with your significant other. As you can probably gather, we’re a very communicative family, and that’s saved us from major upheaval more than a few times.

This study has the potential to unlock so many mysteries surrounding neuropsychiatric conditions, and how they develop. It was the first of its kind to look at both parents’ and children’s MRI scans in relation to one another, and how the prior’s function influenced the latter. “Anxiety, autism, addition, schizophrenia, dyslexia, you name it — brain patterns inherited from both mothers and fathers have an impact on just about all of them,” wrote Dr. Hoeft. Such a breakthrough could help scientists better understand how impactful genetics are on the gamut of mental health disorders which to this day remain relatively in the dark.

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