Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"Is mental illness hereditary?"

ZocdocAnswersIs mental illness hereditary?


Few of my aunts and uncles have had mental problems and my grandpa has dementia. Does this mean that I'll have mental problems? Are psychological things like that hereditary?


Most psychiatric problems, especially the more severe problems like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but also probably milder conditions like depression, have a genetic component. This is why your doctor will always ask you about whether or not any family members have had psychiatric conditions at your annual physical checkup. However, the genetic component of most psychiatric disorders is not straightforward. Just because you have family members who have suffered from a psychiatric disorder does not automatically mean that you will also - it just means that you are at higher risk. You can stay on top of things by paying attention to any concerning symptoms you might have and reporting these to your primary care doctor as soon as you notice them. Dementia, like your grandfather has, is not a psychiatric disorder; rather it is a degenerative brain disorder. Dementia also has a genetic component but, again in most cases, this is not straight forward and simply means you are at risk and not guaranteed to develop the problem. The best way to prevent dementia is to maintain a healthy lifestyle - exercise, good nutrition, avoiding tobacco and alcohol. Also, please continue to have regular checkups with your doctor to make sure any other medical conditions that might predispose to dementia are under good control.

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.