Gene Variant Could Predict Chance of Depression

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Being able to pinpoint the genetic factors inherent in a patient may also provide certain patients peace of mind, says Dr. Harold Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

"Many people feel guilty about being depressed and blame themselves, not realizing that they may have a genetic predisposition that increases their risk above and beyond that which other people face when they deal with environmental stressors," he says.

Such knowledge may decrease the level of distress over their mental illness.

Psychological Prophecy?

But does knowledge of being at risk increase the likelihood that a patient will succumb to depression; a kind of self-fulfilling psychological prophecy? Probably not, Robbins says.

The gene refers to clinical depression, which is a "very serious depression," he says. "I don't think you can talk yourself into or out of that, though worrying about your susceptibility may affect how you are feeling."

It is important to realize that the genetics of depression are at this point only a small piece of the puzzle of treatment, psychiatrists note.

"Most people with the gene -- even when stressed -- do not develop depression," notes Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, so "the associated risk is real but very small."

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