Am I at risk?

by Kierra Jones | February 17, 2021

If one of your parents has had a mental illness, it's natural to wonder if you'll have it too.

There is no simple answer to this question.

A recent analysis of over 33 studies with more than 7000 participants showed that children of parents with a severe mental illness (e.g., depression, bipolar mood disorder, psychosis) had an 18% probability of developing a severe mental illness before age 20. Their risk of having a mental health problem at any point over the age of 20 increased to 32%. In other words, 1 in 3 people whose parents had mental illness will develop a mental illness over the course of their lifetime. However, it is important to keep in mind that most people (68%) who had a parent with mental illness will not end up having mental health problems.
On the other hand, if your parents don't have mental health problems, this doesn't mean you're not at risk. To give one example, while children of mothers who experienced clinical depression had a 20% risk of developing depression themselves, children whose mothers weren't depressed still had a 10% risk of becoming depressed at some point in their life. To put it simply, everyone can get a mental illness at any point in their lives. Having a parent with mental illness puts you at higher risk, but there are many other factors (e.g., bullying, abuse, loss of a loved one, chronic illness, negative thinking) that can lead to developing mental health problems.

A good rule of thumb is that any time you're experiencing difficulties with your mood or thinking lasting longer than three weeks that negatively affecting school, relationships, or regular activities, you should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.


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