For prospective or expecting parents, the phrase "genetic testing" can illicit all kinds of anxieties. What if I'm a carrier? What if my husband is? Should I pay out-of-pocket for a certain test? But what if anxiety itself is what you're worried about passing on to your kid? What mental health concerns are hereditary, and are there genetic tests to screen for them?
When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we nearly collapsed on the floor with relief as each genetic test came back OK. But that wasn't the end of our worrying as we then then started parsing other biological traits that we might be bringing to the table — I have a relative with bipolar disorder; my husband has a family member who's dealt with chronic depression, another with obsessive compulsive disorder. Almost our entire family tree struggles with anxiety. What were we setting our kid up for?
Studies have shown that genes do play a role in many mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, the conversation gets complicated because it's often a combination of hereditary traits and environmental factors that can determine whether a mental health disorder actually presents itself, according to Mental Health America. Put simply, you might pass on the hereditary traits that make your child more prone to depression, but that doesn't mean that your child will necessarily have depression. Environmental factors like stress, trauma, and social connections, can influence whether that trait ultimately gets expressed.
If you're anything like me, these nuances didn't assuage my fears of what I might be passing on to my child. I wanted the clarity that comes with DNA sequencing and screening. Unfortunately, there aren't genetic tests for mental health conditions currently available, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
But, here's what we do know about the hereditary nature of common mental health conditions. (Note: don't let this bum you out. Remember, your genes are only one piece of a much larger, more intricate puzzle.)