Though the specifics and prevalence rates vary, one of the increasing trends researchers are finding in their longitudinal and genetic studies is that there is a heritability, or inherited risk, that occurs with many mental health disorders. In disorders and diagnoses such as Autism, Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and many other diagnoses, family history is a considerable factor, and is often why evaluators and therapists inquire about family mental health history. While we can’t help the genes we are born with, or the genes that we pass on to our children, we can be aware of these risk factors, as well as the protective factors that can help with this awareness.
While the risk factors can be disheartening, a helpful reframe is in the benefits of experience. Should you be a parent to a child that has similar mental health difficulties as yourself, you are in a better position to understand. While anxiety and depression can be quite confusing for those who do not experience the symptoms, as a first hand survivor and warrior in mental health, you are best equipped to help your child handle the rough roads that may lie ahead. With this comes cautionary advice though: One person’s anxiety and depression experience does not directly map onto someone else’s experience. A parent whose depression leads to long, insomnia filled nights may be very perplexed when their child with the same diagnosis has the need to sleep more than his or her peers. Having a sibling with ADHD does not necessarily mean that the hyperactivity behaviors will be directly evident in their brother or sister, who might be more of a daydreaming, or inattentive type. And we already know that no two people with an autism spectrum disorder think exactly alike.
We have even more good news: New research is showing that treatment of a child or adolescent’s depression symptoms can benefit the parents, too. Though we don’t yet know why, some common sense guesses demonstrate that because the parent child relationship is so close, and symbiotic, when one has worse symptoms, so does the other, and vice versa. Additionally, for children and adolescents, symptoms of depression and anxiety are often externalized, or more overtly noticed (i.e., crying, tantrums, behavioral acting out) and when these symptoms improve, the impact that they have on those around the child can be lessened. Finally, when children and teens are in treatment, there is often a parent involvement component and systemic change that can rub off on a parents mental well being as well.
As humans, our emotional experience does not exist within a vacuum. Our relationships are impacted when we struggle, and likewise they are benefited when we are helped. This research helps confirm what we’ve always known: that help can have an extensive reach, and can make long lasting impacts for families and loved ones. We are committed to collaborative mental health care, and our providers have experience with children, adolescents, and adults; family dynamics and relationships. Asking for help can be difficult, but the payoff is worth it.