Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections

Genetics can lead to interesting things: red hair, extra fingers (it’s called polydactyly, and I was born with it- 6 fingers on each hand), certain health conditions, blue eyes, and other things. Can it contribute to mental illness?

The research and debate continue, even as this post is being written. There has been so much research and movement forward in this field- it’s pretty fascinating. To learn more about this, please read Moving Forward: The Last Fifty Years of Psychiatry

Parent and child

My Thoughts

I don’t think genetics is the only thing that causes mental illness- if other events happen, say, any kind of abuse, neglect or other ACEs (Adverse Childhood Events) occur, then it increases the chances of a mental illness or at least signs of one, occurring. Any other theory just doesn’t make sense to me.

I also agree with the theory that if you have a parent with a mental illness, there’s a pretty good chance that you may have some traits of said illness. You also may not. I think there’s also something said for personality traits. That’s also a factor.

For example, my oldest niece and nephew’s father has SMI (Severe Mental Illness). He wasn’t able to raise them because of this (and other issues), and my niece struggles with depression. She has also had some very negative events happen in her life and had difficulties dealing with them.

My family has a history of mental illness on both sides, and my dad is a suicide attempt survivor. I lost an uncle to suicide when I was nine years old. I deal with anxiety and depression daily. I’m hoping that none of my kids ever have to deal with this issue. I’ve seen this happen in other families, with tragic results.

DNA pic

What Do The Really Smart People Say?

According to some very intelligent people at The Scientist, there are 10 mental illnesses that have genetic variants that contribute to their development. If these scientists can figure out the variants, they can discover what causes these illnesses, leading to better treatment. This would be an amazing discovery. Millions would benefit.

Some of those listed include:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • ADHD
  • autism
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

This doesn’t necessarily mean a cure, but this means more of an idea on how to help diagnose and treat. These same studies are studying neurological issues like epilepsy, migraines and Alzheimer’s. It was intriguing to read about this research. It’s almost like the researchers are connecting the dots to learn about what is going on inside our brains.

Putting It All Together

According to a study found on NAMI there has been a gene on Chromosome 6 found to be associated with the cause of schizophrenia. This can be a source of relief, I think, to know that it truly isn’t your fault that you have a mental illness.

Those who don’t understand tend to think that you can just “get over it” or that “it’s all in your head”, not stopping to think that it’s out of your control, something that you would never wish for.

As someone with anxiety and depression- I’d never wish this on someone I didn’t like. I know a lot of people with mental illness, and none of us enjoy it. To put it plainly, it sucks.

We take meds, go to therapy, are sometimes hospitalized. We have lost those we love to suicide, have attempted, hate ourselves for the smallest things. It’s a struggle we wish we didn’t have. If there’s research out there that can help us out, I am all for it.

Sticking together

In the cases of autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, there has been a finding of brain cell communication changes in all three conditions. This isn’t saying there are similarities between the three, but that there are bases to the three in the brain.

There is a lot of work being done to find out more about the roots of autism. I’m pretty sure this started some time ago, thanks to the fraudulent study done that stated vaccines cause autism. People want to learn more about autism, mainly about what causes it.

If you want to know my thoughts on that topic, please see The Autism/Vaccine Debate 

The future looks interesting. It looks potentially brighter for millions. I couldn’t begin to know how to do this kind of research, but cheers to these people for dedicating their lives to doing it.

What do you think about this sort of research? Would you benefit from genetic research? 

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay







Mental and Physical care are important

Making Connections for Better Physical and Mental Health

This question has been debated for years- is there a connection between physical and mental health?

If you ask me, yes. When I’m having a bad pain day, I’m not in a great mood. I try to pick myself up a bit, but I don’t feel 100% happy. It’s kind of hard to feel that way when your hips feel like they’re broken and/or your knees feel like someone kicked them out of places and they are throbbing.

This is about the same if I’m a bit more anxious and/or depressed than usual. My limbs feel twice their actual weight, I move slower and sometimes my stomach hurts. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way in either circumstance.

Mental and Physical care are important

I’m Not Sure How This Works But…

When you don’t feel mentally healthy, your body follows behind. In the case of depression, it can be difficult to get out of bed. If you can barely get out of bed, it’s not exactly easy to take a shower, brush your teeth, eat or drink. Self- care takes a huge hit. You can read a bit about this in The Hard Days of Mental Illness

Depression can also appear after a serious illness or medical events like a stroke or heart attack. It is sometimes missed by treating physicians because they are primarily concerned with treating the main diagnosis.

They don’t so much do this on purpose, but it isn’t their main focus. Less severe depression can be assisted by lifestyle changes like sleep, exercise, or even therapy. Anti-depressants can be prescribed depending on the patient’s needs and other medications. This information can be found at Psych Central

Chronic stress, for example, can increase heart rate, tighten muscles, and raise blood pressure. This also leads to symptoms like headaches (sometimes migraines, if you’re really lucky), stomachaches, chest pain, fatigue, and even changes in sex drive. Those are potentially dangerous changes. This is why so many people are trying to reduce their stress- plus, who wants to be stressed out all the time?

Relaxing is good for your health

How Can I Change The Patterns?

There are a few things you can do to change your mind/body connection.

  • Get in touch with your emotions. Recognize your emotions then figure out what’s going on behind them.
  • Express your emotions in a healthy way. This can be a bit of a change if you haven’t done this in the past, but this change is worth it. Try writing, drawing, even coloring. Talking to someone can be very healthy. If you can, find a therapist or someone else you can trust with your thoughts. Getting unhealthy thoughts off your mind can lift a huge weight off your shoulders without realizing it.
  • Try a bit of balance. This means living a life outside of work. Work and/or school isn’t everything in life. Try to find a way to relax- going for a short walk, yoga, reading, making pottery, watching a movie, anything that helps relax you. It may be time to look at the things that don’t make you happy and let them go.
  • Develop resilience. Building up resilience is good for your emotional health. Being able to bounce back from a negative event or stress can improve your outlook on life. This can include building a support system, being positive, accepting change and keeping things in perspective.
  • Take good care of yourself. This means eating well, sleeping, creating a safe space for yourself, and other things.

This information is from Family Doctor

Good food can boost your strength

Starting Small

If you haven’t been taking care of yourself lately in this area, here are a few ideas to restart that plan:

  • Make a doctor’s appointment. This can be your yearly physical with a physician, OB/GYN, even a dentist if you haven’t been in a couple of years.
  • Face masks are the best. Try one if you haven’t in a week.
  • Buy or update a planner.
  • Take a long, hot shower or bath.
  • Read a daily inspirational quote (if you have social media, this is very easy to do. There are many pages for these.)
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Meditate, even if it’s for 5 minutes. (It may take some time to fully get into it, and this is okay.)
  • Journal. If you need ideas on where to start, see The Joys of Journaling
  • Watch a funny YouTube video or one with cats.
  • Do something creative- puzzles, painting, sketching, anything you can think of.

What do you think about the connection? Do you think it’s there? It is incredibly important to take care of ourselves in all ways possible.

For further reading: Can Stress Kill You?


Adjusting to a New World

Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.

But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?

Cry a little

The Big Change

Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.

The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.

In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?

He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.

I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.

Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.

This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.

I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.

Never give up

It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.

Making The Best of Things

Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.

Small steps

It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)

If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.

He dropped the jar.

Major mom fail.

Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.

Super parent

Final Thoughts and Tips:

If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.

Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.

Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.

Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.

You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.

If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn

Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.

Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

Twin Mummy and Daddy