Are people born with depression? (A complete insight)

In this article,we are going to gain an in-depth insight about if people are born with depression or not. 

Are people born with depression?

Yes absolutely people may be born with the genes responsible for depression but they might not suffer from it though.

Before we can find a strong answer to the question, it is crucial to consider a few studies,theories and findings as discussed below.

What is depression ?

Depression is a mood disorder which encompasses symptoms such as feelings of extreme sadness,anger,loss further affecting daily activities.Studies suggest that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in depression.

How are genes responsible for causing depression?

It is very challenging to determine the genetic risk factors for depression.It may be possible that what we know as depression being not a single disorder rather a combination of multiple dysfunctions thus multiple genes confirming its occurrence.The genetic differences of depression in men and women are also not constant. Researchers suspect that studies with many more people will be required to pinpoint the genetic variations that influence the risk of depression.

The genes thought to be associated with depression have diverse functions in the brain. Some of these genes control the production , transport, and activity of neurotransmitters, which relay chemical signals that allow nerve cells to contact one another. Other genes that may influence the risk of depression are involved in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of neurons, as well as the ability to form connections between neurons (also known as synapses) to change and adapt over time in response to experience, a characteristic known as synaptic plasticity.

In a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, it was found that a collection of  80 genes could be responsible for causing depression(102 gene variants and 269 genes ). Therefore, everyone might not experience depression however may have the genetic vulnerability to it.

Genetic variation in individuals could be a possible reason too. The more variation, the more possibility of affected nerve connections in those part of the brain which controls personality and decision-making.Polymorphism in genes associated with serotonin,dopamine,noradrenaline neurotransmitters like inhibition of serotonin reuptake may fuel the decrement of monoamines thus resulting in depression.

Release of anti-inflammatory cytokines to compensate inflammation in the body may also lead to a depressive mood.

Genes that are responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm might interfere with the normal sleep cycle or other body functions of any individual thus predisposing depression.

Are we really born with depression?

The question in consideration is not a direct one to be answered with either a “yes” or a “no”,however a few evidence based discussions may help us gather insight about it.

In ancient greek philosophy,John Locke gave rise to the term “tabula rasa” i.e.“blank state”  : which means humans are born with a blank state of the mind and everything that they acquire is a result of learning and observing.

 But do you really think, we are born without any innate abilities to process data? Even a newborn can comprehend sounds, encounter simple reflex actions and process basic gestures. Therefore,when it comes to answering the question,“Are people born with depression”,it is very important to consider arguments based on scientific evidence.

In the domain of science, psychologists and neurologists have claimed different parts of the brain to be responsible for exercising different functions ,for example:the cerebral cortex is responsible for processing sensory,motor and reflex activities; the hypothalamus for sleep and growth etc.Important evidence against the tabula rasa model of the mind comes from behavioural genetics, especially twin and adoption studies . These studies indicate strong genetic influences on personal characteristics such as IQ, alcoholism, gender identity, and other traits. Not only personality characteristics, but also the predispositions of social behaviors have been studied in the realm of the influences of genes. 

Taking the above-said views into consideration,we got two different perspectives of the origin of different human traits in the field of developmental psychology: 1.tabula rasa(denial of inheritability) 2.genes(acceptance of inheritability); also termed as the debate of the “natures vs. nurture”.

In the long-drawn debate of nature vs. nurture researchers have sought to find whether genes or experiences influence a person’s behaviors and personality.

We might be born with depression:

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is common and moderately heritable.

A family history of depression can yield a higher risk of getting it compared to those without any major depressive familial inheritance.

  • Research says if someone has a parent or sibling with major depression, that person probably has a 2 or 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (or around 20-30% instead of 10%).
  • A meta-analysis of twin research data shows that the heritability rate for depression is 37% (95% CI: 31%−42%), and data from family studies show a two- to threefold increase in the risk of depression in first-degree offspring of patients with depression . 

Considering various research studies on the genetic influence of the predispositions of depression,it can be considered that genes have a major influence in making an individual depressed. 

We might be born with those genes ,responsible for causing depression, inherited from our parents but it is not the only factor that is left to be considered. There might be situational and environmental factors in the form of experiences which leads to depression.

Genes are not the only factor responsible:

Other than genetic inheritance, an individual’s experiences,environment and perceptions plays an important part as well.

One might experience stressors in their lives in the form of mishaps,tragedies and accidents such as death of a close one, experience of a natural disaster,divorce,abuse or social isolation etc.People who suffer from chronic diseases like cancer,neurodegenerative disorders may also show symptoms of depression.According to DSM-5 environmental pollutants could be a possible cause too.

In a study, full and half siblings at high risk for major depression, were compared with individuals raised in their home environment, those reared in adoptive homes (homes selected in Sweden for their high-quality rearing environment) had a significantly reduced risk for major depression. This protective effect disappeared if an adoptive parent had major depression or if the adoptive home experienced parental death or divorce during childhood/adolescence.

 The rearing environment has a meaningful impact on risk for major depression, and this effect is likely mediated both by parental depression and the continuity or disruption of the home environment.

The nature-nurture conflict and depression:

In the long drawn conflict of nature or nurture , the ideas and views shared by social scientists have gained some modifications in the recent years. Some scientists now consider that neither nature nor nurture can be considered solely responsible , rather behaviors are a result of a combination of both factors.

It can be stated that we all are born with some set of genes inherited from our parents . Alongside, we have our own way of perceiving the world around ourselves based on experiences . One may have genes of major depression but it isn’t always true that he or she will be suffering from the same. Likewise, one may show symptoms of depression even without inheriting it.

It has also been evident that if one of an identical twin shows depression there is 50 percent chance of the other one suffering from it, which means there will be 50 percent chance of the other twin to not have depression. 

A case study of a 39 year old woman suffering from postpartum depression reveals that her genetic inheritance of the disorder as well as the pregnancy played equal roles in making her feel depressed for a longer period of time. Even though she had genetic influence,her pregnancy fueled the predispositions of the genes resulting in her suffering , evidently claiming the combination of both the factors of nature and  nurture .

Another research was conducted by  Gerald Haeffel and colleagues at the University of Notre Dame on 177 subjects from a detention centre in Russia who suffered from severe depression. They were given a questionnaire to determine their paternal and maternal parenting styles and were tested for the specific dopamine transporter gene previously implicated in depression.It was found that neither of the factor was solely responsible for causing the disorder,rather the boys with especially rejecting mothers, and a specific form of the dopamine transporter gene were at higher risk for major depression and suicidal ideation.

Therefore the above studies claim,we may be born with genes having depression , but it does not necessarily confirm the occurrence of the disorder because environmental factors may influence too or both nature and nurture may combine to either enhance or inhibit the symptoms of depression.

Therefore the answer to the question is “depends”.


From the article above, we could infer the various factors responsible for causing depression. We also got some insights on how genes play a role along with cultural and environmental factors to cause depression in an individual. There it can be concluded that yes we can be born with depression but that does not necessarily confirm that we will suffer from depression.

If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.

FAQs : Are people born with depression?

What is the number one cause of depression?

In accordance with research evidence, depression does not adhere to a single cause. It has numerous causes like : faulty mood regulation by the brain due to chemical imbalances, stressful life events like trauma,accidents ; medical problems and medications, genetic dysfunction etc.

Does depression count as a disability?

Although according to the Americans withDisabilitiesAct (ADA), depression is a psychiatric disability,but generally it is considered a disorder over a disability.But depression,If severe, may make a person disable and restrict him or her from leading a normal life.

What genes are associated with depression?

The serotonin transporter gene and genes involved in the serotonergic system are predicted to be responsible for depression.

Can a child inherit depression?

It is believed that 40 percent of the occurrence of depression has a genetic linkage;rest 60 percent include situation factors. So a child may inherit the gene but predisposition might not happen depending on various other factors, or might pass those genes on to their next generations.

Is depression a dominant or recessive gene?

A single gene does not cause depression. Research says depression is caused due to the predisposition of several genes,although the pattern is unknown.

How can you prevent genetic depression?

Genetic depression cannot be eradicated but can be taken precaution from. One can aim to lead a healthy life by doing regular exercise,yoga, meditation,having nutritious diet, not taking too much stress and staying connected with a homely social environment.


 Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate. New York: Penguin. 2002

Dusheck, Jennie. 2002. “The Interpretation of Genes”. Natural History..

The Genetics of Depression: A Review Douglas F. Levinson

The Rearing Environment and Risk for Major Depression: A Swedish National High-Risk Home-Reared and Adopted-Away Co-Sibling Control Study

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!