The Journey to Mental Illness
We are born with genes that are either delicate or resilient.
People with delicate genes, who are exposed to certain stressors in life that happen either gradually, or suddenly will undergo changes in gene expression called epigenetics. These changes may result in destabilization of brain chemicals, which may then lead to mood changes and then potentially what we call mental illness. This is not to say, that people with ‘delicate’ genes cannot display resiliency in the face of many challenges, but only that they are more genetically predisposed to struggling with mental health as result.
People with resilient genes have genes that are not easily prone to epigenetic changes, thus life’s stresses do not impact them as much. This may explain why when two siblings are exposed to the same set of circumstances, one may concede under pressure, and suffer from mental illness, and the other may not. This is not to imply that someone whose genes are ‘resilient’ or lacks genetic predisposition to mental illness will not become mentally ill. This only means they are less likely to become so, and more likely to display mental resiliency in the face of challenging circumstances.
However, genes only account for about 40% of the reason people experience conditions like anxiety and depression. Whereas, in other mental conditions such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar, that number can rise to 70%. Additionally, the same genes that can predispose some to anxiety, also protect from addiction, and the opposite is also true. There is no one gene involved in mental illness, but rather numerous genes that work together to create certain predispositions. Though science has not yet discovered the exact cocktail of genes associated with predisposition to mental illness, there are significant strides being made in this field.