The role of genetics in mental health is a complex and evolving topic. Genetics can affect how our brain develops and functions, which in turn can influence our mental processes and emotions. However, genetics is not the only factor that determines our mental health. There are also environmental factors, such as stress, trauma, substance use, or infections, that can trigger or worsen mental illnesses.
Some mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression, have a stronger genetic component than others. This means that people who have certain genes or gene variants are more likely to develop these disorders than people who do not have them. However, having these genes does not mean that a person will definitely develop a mental illness. It only means that they have a higher risk of developing it.
For example, one study found that certain genetic glitches were associated with five disorders: Autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Bipolar disorder, Major depression and Schizophrenia. These conditions share variations in two genes that influence the development of the cellular structure responsible for regulating the calcium flow in neurons.
By understanding the genetics of individuals with mental health disorders, it can help the mental health care sector to understand the biological mechanisms underlying mental illnesses, which can lead to:
- Developing new and more effective treatments.
- Improving the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders, which are currently based on symptoms and clinical observations.
- Creating a family health history, which is a record of the health conditions and mental disorders that run in a person’s family.
This will be possible by collecting genetic information from individuals who have mental health illnesses but it could raise ethical and social issues, such as privacy, consent, discrimination, or misuse. Therefore, it is important to balance the benefits and risks of collecting genetic data and to respect the rights and dignity of people with mental health issues. This can ensure that the information collected and analysed is relevant, respectful, and responsive to their needs and preferences.
How does St Martins understand the role of genetics in a resident’s mental health recovery?
St Martins recognises that many mental disorders are caused by a combination of biological, environmental, psychological, and genetic factors. Whilst genetics do appear to influence the risk of developing mental illness, the causes of mental health conditions are complex. Genes account for some risk, but factors such as adverse life events, stress, substance use, chronic medical conditions, and biological factors also play a significant role.
St Martins does look at residents’ family history and the impact that this will have on the person during their life. Residents often have a complex family dynamic which are impacted by genetics within the family that could mean that another family member will also be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. We therefore support the person to have positive relationships with their family which are often complex due to genetic history.
By understanding the role of genetics in mental health, St Martins practices a person-centred approach which focuses on residents’ interests, beliefs, and history, we believe this leads to better support and care for the residents across our care homes and supported living services.
This holistic method focuses on:
- Care based on the needs of the resident.
- Respect for the resident’s unique life experiences.
- Giving a safe space for them to talk and self-actualise positive changes in their lives.
- Co-production of health and well-being outcomes through resident and staff partnership.
- Providing an inclusive language for residents.
- A deeper understanding of a resident’s mental health.
(1) The Role of Genetics in Mental Health Disorders. https://happyhealthyafter.com/2023/04/04/the-role-of-genetics-in-mental-health-disorders/
(2) Looking at My Genes: What Can They Tell Me About My Mental Health? – NIMH. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/looking-at-my-genes.
(3) Is Mental Illness Genetic? What the Research Says – Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/is-mental-illness-genetic-what-the-research-says-6752828.
(4) The Role of Genetics in Mental Health | Chris Massman. https://www.chrismassmanmft.com/news/2017/4/14/the-role-of-genetics-in-mental-health.
(5) The Role of Genetics in Mental Health | by Michael Paland – Medium. https://medium.com/@michaelpaland/the-role-of-genetics-in-mental-health-46a6c34b1512.