Breaking the Genetic Cycle of Anxiety and Depression

Assuming that a child’s struggles are solely genetic can be more harmful than helpful.

We at EveryDay Strong were recently asked, “How can I help my child even though anxiety and depression run in our family?”

If you struggle with anxiety and depression, you’ve probably heard that it runs in your family. You’ve also probably heard that you are predisposed to those feelings.

Often times, this becomes the go-to cause for why someone is feeling anxious or depressed.

Of course, there is truth to this. We know that it is possible to have a genetic propensity to anxiety and depression. However, we also know that anxiety and depression are multifactorial.

Imagine you have a friend who wants to run a marathon. They come to you and disclose that they can’t get past mile eight. You go through all of the possible reasons why they can’t keep going. It could be biological, psychological, spiritual, social, educational or environmental. Which is the cause?

The answer is: It’s complex and interconnected. We probably don’t know the exact cause of why someone is struggling. Assuming that a child’s struggles are solely genetic can be more harmful than helpful. Labeling the child as genetically programmed for anxiety and depression could inhibit progression because the child may feel like there is nothing they can do and it’s just “who they are.”

Parents can help alleviate these issues by breaking the genetic cycle. We can do this by changing our approach to anxiety and depression. Instead of blaming one cause for why our child is struggling, we can focus on what they need.

Catherine Johnson, a licensed social worker of 42 years, has seen this in her practice.

She recalls, “As the mom and the grandma have implemented (EveryDay Strong) I’ve seen the children really thrive. This is over three generations of changing behavior. The mom and grandma changed their approach and implemented the things they’ve learned to help their kids feel more safe, connected and confident. It’s quite exciting to see.”

It’s never too late to create a more positive relationship with mental health for our children. Here are a couple of ways we can do this:

Create safety through sharing: Parents can foster a safe environment by being vulnerable. Share your experience with anxiety or depression. These conversations don’t always have to have a clean ending or teach a lesson. Your child will find comfort and safety just knowing that you understand how they are feeling.

Connect through asking: Children who are struggling probably feel like no one cares or that they’re a burden. Parents can alleviate this by initiating conversation and asking specific questions. Being specific shows a child that we notice them and care.

Build confidence by expressing confidence: When a child is struggling it is common for the parent to try to fix the problem. While this is well-intentioned, it can take away opportunities for the child to practice competence on their own. Instead, try expressing confidence that they can solve this problem. Merely telling them you have confidence in them is sufficient.

Genetics can play a role in anxiety and depression. Regardless, we can help alleviate the implications of this by not placing our focus on the cause and more on how we can help our children feel more safe, connected, and confident.

United Way is on a mission to help every child in our community feel safe, connected, and confident. Twice a month in this space, we’ll be sharing ideas from local professionals, parents, and friends about how you can do that for the kids in your life. In the meantime, find us at http://everydaystrong.org, or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.