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Mental Health

Mental Illness and Family History

11/20/2007

Question:

I have heard that family history has a part in a person`s mental health. My father and grandfather both take antidepressants. My mother has always been extremely, extremely emotional, and my grandmother has been committed several times and now has brain damage. when I was younger I heard my parents fight a lot and even heard my mother make threats to take her own life. They divorced when I was 15. I spent two weeks having to play mommie of the house, then my dad got a new woman and she took over. Most people say this is what caused me to go over the edge, but I don`t think so. I did go through a period of time where I cut myself and one night tried to take my own life. I no longer do those things, but do catch myself breaking down for no good reason. I can`t sleep at night because I can`t turn my brain off. I do consider myself overly paranoid, and have crazy mood swings. Are there any exercises that I can do to just calm my brain? I don`t want to go on medication, but I`m afraid of relasping to my worst. Especially when I start having children. Also, is it possiable for my kids to deal with this? Thank you so much for your time and help.

Answer:

Thank you for your question.

Your brief description actually covers several areas. Psychiatric illnesses are like other illnesses, such as diabetes, in that they run in families. A parent with any such illness will not automatically transmit this illness to a child, but the odds are greater. You deserve credit for considering the impact of your family history on your children.

You also deserve credit for emerging successfully from very difficult situations while growing up. You are correct in that no single situation can "cause" a particular psychiatric condition. However, a series of events and difficult environment do not create the best situation for growth.

Despite your statement, psychiatric medications prescribed correctly and monitored carefully can be extremely helpful in decreasing irritability, promoting a more stable mood and daily function. If the idea of seeing a psychiatrist does not appeal to you, you can consider asking your primary care physician for an opinion on your concerns. The two of you can determine if a course of psychiatric medications would be indicated or if a referral to a professional in mental health would be worthwhile.

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Response by:

Ram Chandran  Kalyanam, MD Ram Chandran Kalyanam, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University