Family still matters in mental disorders

Ally Blankartz and Ally Blankartz

Recall with me, if you will, a time in which the entertainment industry has attempted in vain to replicate a therapy session between a stodgy shrink and their meek client. Listen closely and you will hear a line that, for me, has become a running joke regarding this noble field; the therapist inclines towards their client and in a tone of casual sternness, “please, tell me about your relationship with your mother.” Thank you Freud for instilling this notion that everything wrong in our lives can be traced back to a shabby relationship with our mother.

Was Freud so far off from the truth through? I say nay, perhaps it is not yet wise to throw in the towel for these ever-so willing scapegoats called parents.

As mostly independent, fairly self-sufficient young adults, it is generally frowned upon to be running around blaming our parents for our various human mistakes. We don’t expect our parents to take blame for a late rent payment or a poor test score. The general innocence of childhood has been upgraded in favor of freedom from curfews and independent living. As we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to shirk off the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of our elders.

But there is one aspect of our being in which our parents can still play the role of the willing scapegoat; this opportunity yields itself when we are concerned with the influential role genetics play upon the development and diagnosis of mental disorders.

The general consensus among psychological researchers today is genetics can and do act as a major catalyst in an individual’s mental and physical well being. So not only did mom bequeath you to large hips and poor nail beds, she may have also passed to you a disposition for major depressive disorder, panic disorder or even schizophrenia.

Currently, genetics is being recognized as one of the leading contributors to certain depressive disorders. To prove this point, I used a close friend of mine. She reported the startling consistency of the prevalence of depression in current female relatives on her maternal side. How’s that for all in the family?

Simply acknowledging genetics plays a role does not necessarily merit us the leniency to abandon all reason and wallow in our imagined problems, claiming it to all be in our genes. Genes is only recognized as a contributing factor, not the sole culprit alone. There is still a large amount of stock placed in the importance of also recognizing environmental factors as a contributing factor.

Being college students it only seems second nature to place ourselves into less than normal situations, most of which prove to be tests of character, tests of faith and the ability to battle the elements in three inch heels. The college environment is a whirlwind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences and moments that come once every leap year. While this adds up to a fantastic adventure, the stress generated from living the college dream is enough to drive anyone over the edge.

Although just as we cannot blame genetics alone for mental instabilities we may encounter on our life journey, blaming the “college atmosphere” hardly counts as nailing the culprit either. It is the combining of these two potentially volatile factors that can trigger the development of a mental disorder. It operates much like physical aliments – a combination of poor stretching and overwork can lead to sprains and fractures.

The role genetics plays in our mental health is one of growing importance. Being college students, the majority of us are at the age where a slew of mental disorders have a tendency to manifest. This doesn’t mean we are going to lose touch with reality at the same time and start hearing voices in our heads, but a large population of individuals will suffer through some form of mental disorder at one point in their life.

The best defense we have against this is knowledge. We need to know our family medical histories and not just the physical aspects, but the mental aspects as well. Become aware of the situations we are placing ourselves into, and learn to manage stress with healthy confidence. Remember genes alone are not the problem but when subjected to the right amount stress they can trigger a whole new world of experiences.