The same gene that may cause depression in some, is linked to a better mood in others, a new study finds.
This suggests that depression isn’t just ‘in your genes’: it is also about the environment.
The research challenges the idea that certain genes are risk factors for depression.
Instead, certain genes seem to make people more susceptible to life experiences.
Dr Chad Bousman, an expert on gene-environment interactions who led the study, said:
“Our results suggest some people have a genetic makeup that makes them more susceptible to negative environments, but if put in a supportive environment these same people are likely to thrive.”
The study followed 333 people over five years.
Their genes and levels of depression were tested.
They were also asked about any childhood sexual or physical abuse.
Almost one-quarter had a particular type of gene that has been linked to depression.
Those with the gene who had also suffered childhood abuse were much more likely to have severe depression in middle age.
Those with the gene, but without the abuse, were likely to be happier in middle age.
The gene — known as SERT — affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps regulate mood.
Dr Bousman said:
“You can’t change your genotype or go back and change your childhood, but you can take steps to modify your current environment.
It also means that it’s not as clear-cut as telling a person that because they have a risk gene, they’re doomed.
This research is showing that’s not the case at all.
A person’s genes alone are not enough to determine how they might experience depression.
This research tells us that what may be considered a risk gene in one context, may actually be beneficial in another.
So this directly opposes the notion of genetic determinism, the idea that your genes define your fate.”
The research was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open (Nguyen et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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