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Genes play a huge role in factors that negatively and positively affect mental health. Genes are DNA segments that carry the information that determines your qualities and characteristics, such as; eye color and height, including mental health.

One could begin to imagine the relationship or link between mental fitness, (which results from your brain and mind), and genes being microscopic components of the DNA.

Relationship between genes and mental health

Mental health issues are the outcome of the activities of your brain and the mind, while genes are microscopic components of the DNA. It has been shown through scientific research and analysis that mental health disorders have significant genetic elements.

Your emotions, consciousness, and thoughts are results of complex activity in the brain, which involves sending and receiving signals by several millions of brain cells known as neurons. These signals depend on the working efficiency and healthy state of the brain cells.

The effective functioning of these cells depends on their molecular components. And the molecular components (proteins) are determined by the genes. It explains that if there is a problem in a particular gene coding, the molecules it will produce will have an altered shape. A protein's shape is an essential aspect of its effective interaction with other molecules as their principal function.

Cells with altered proteins are most likely not to function appropriately. If the cells are neuronal, then the processes leading to the formation of your minds are disruptively involved.

So these steps clearly explain the connection between our genes and mental health. The question is, how does Gene affect an individual's mental health?

Can genes affect your mental health?

No gene can determine whether or not an individual will come down with a mental illness, but genes determine how the brain develops and functions. Some Gene variants are associated with a higher risk of developing cognitive conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Imagine you have a light bulb, and to activate it, you need to switch it on. In the same way, you can have Gene variants that can cause the development of depression, but they are not activated.

External factors like environment or trauma can activate such genes leading to depression. It explains that predicting your mental health with absolute confidence is impossible without symptoms.

Scientific research has identified over a hundred genetic variants that boost the risk of multiple mental illnesses. You get your genes directly from your biological parents, and cognitive ailments can run in the family. It does not mean that you automatically inherit depression if one or both parents have it. But, you can inherit a combination of genes that predisposes you to depression. If you have a parent or sibling with major depression, you have a greater chance of developing depression. For instance, in the general population, the rate of schizophrenia is 1%, but having a parent or sibling with schizophrenia raises the chance to 10% and 40% to 65% if an identical twin has the condition.

What are the factors that activate the expression of mental health illness?

  • Trauma: This could be sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse, natural disasters, or losing a loved one. These are all likely to increase the chances of developing mental health illnesses.

  • Substance abuse: Constant and inappropriate use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco can increase the risk of mental health illness.

  • Prenatal damage: This is the damage that occurs to a fetus, and this can be a result of exposure of the pregnant mother to drugs, alcohol, or infection.

  • Negative thoughts: Continuously harboring negative thoughts, putting yourself down, and continually anticipating the worst can land you in a state of depression and anxiety.

  • Environment: Stressful environments like living with an abusive family or abject poverty overstresses the brain and activate the manifestation of mental health diseases.

  • Bullying, discrimination, and stigma

Signs and symptoms of mental health illness

  • Apathy and loss of interest in activities individuals enjoyed previously.

  • Illogical thinking

  • Nervousness and fear of others

  • Feeling disconnected from the individual's self and surroundings.

  • Rapid and dramatic mood changes.

  • Sleep and appetite change

  • Decline in functioning

  • Irritability and low energy

  • Withdrawal from activities and friends

What is the best prevention for genetically caused mental conditions?

Prevention is a very critical approach to improving mental fitness. It involves stopping mental health issues from developing, aggravating, or reappearing.

Understanding ways of promoting mental health and preventing illness, public health entities utilize the primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention measures:

  • Primary prevention: This aims at the general population irrespective of risk. It includes visiting prenatal and post-natal parents and offering psychological support, parenting skill training, and health management of both mother and child.

  • Secondary prevention: This aims at reducing the rate at which mental health deterioration advances. It requires thorough early detection, screening, and brief treatment. Primary caregivers are encouraged to study for behavioral abnormalities like anxiety, substance misusage, sadness, and trauma, as these increase the chances of early detection and intervention.

  • Tertiary prevention: This aims to improve function, reduce the effect of mental health illness and prevent more complications. It is for people who already have this illness.

A combination of primary, secondary, and tertiary preventive measures is vital in achieving a satisfactory level of protection prevention.


The significance of the genetic role in mental health varies from person to person. Your genes can suggest that you are at risk of developing a mental illness, but you may hardly ever manifest the symptoms. Meanwhile, another individual's Gene can suggest otherwise, but the person may develop a mental illness after a trauma. It shows that no matter your genetics, there's no guarantee that you will not have a mental disorder throughout your lifetime.

If you have a family history of mental illness, You need to study the signs and symptoms to know what to look out for and seek remedy on time if you experience such symptoms. This way, you can pay attention to the risk factors as well.


Shim RS, Compton MT: The social determinants of mental health; in The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, 7th ed. Edited by Weiss Roberts L. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2019.

Schiele MA, Domschke K. Epigenetics at the crossroads between genes, environment, and resilience in anxiety disorders. Genes Brain Behav. 2018;17(3):e12423. doi:10.1111/gbb.12423

Van der Auwera S, Peyrot WJ, Milaneschi Y, et al. Genome-wide gene-environment interaction in depression: a systematic evaluation of candidate genes: the childhood trauma working-group of PGC-MDD. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2018;177(1):40–49. doi:10.1002/ajmg.b.32593

Niemi MEK, Martin HC, Rice DL, Gallone G, Gordon S, Kelemen M, et al. Common genetic variants contribute to the risk of rare severe neurodevelopmental disorders. Nature. 2018;268–271.


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