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When Mental Illness is Hereditary

when mental illness is heriditaryAs a child I remember my mom constantly saying “my nerves are bad.” I didn’t know that my nerves were bad, along with the little pills she took, and her alcoholism, were personal attempts to alleviate the anxiety and depression she felt.

Back then it wasn’t talked about. Children were seen and not heard, and that was just how it was. It was very confusing as a child. I didn’t understand why my mom was not happy and why her “nerves were bad.”

I struggled with anxiety long before I even knew what anxiety was. I just felt different then everyone else. I did not know the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing were what my mom had also been experiencing. Anxiety takes on different forms and manifests in different ways, and mine didn’t look exactly like hers. She cried a lot, and I didn’t. She seemed so sad and for the most part I loved life.

By the time I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I was already trying to find ways to cope. I sought help in many forms; counseling, life skills classes, psychiatry, doctors, self help and self awareness books, as well as writing journals and talking about it. I was doing all the things I had not seen my mother do, in hopes that I would be able to “get over this” and one day be free from the anxiety I felt.

As the years went on practicing and engaging in these strategies in attempt to cure my anxiety, none have been completely successful. There have been times where my anxiety is a mere faint existence and I can function with ease, and other times it has been debilitating, along with everything in between.

I learned to live and sometimes thrive with anxiety.

I thought because I was a living example of being a good role model, and different mother to my children, then my mother was to me, that my children would not go through what I have.


My daughter was 15 years old when I ripped apart her room in desperation to find out why my full of zest for life, spirited child was now depressed and crying all the time. I found bottles of Gravol and cough syrup which I learned were her ways of trying to deal with anxiety and depression. We spent the next 3 hours in the emergency room. The same psychiatrist that my mother and myself have seen, was now seeing my daughter. I left that night with my daughter being admitted. How was this happening? This was not how her life was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to feel and experience the things my mother and I had. I had made our lives different. Where did I go wrong?

I went wrong by believing that I had some super power over mental illness. I went wrong by believing that being a great mom would prevent my children from having a mental illness. I went wrong by thinking that I could love my children enough that mental illness wouldn’t “get them.”

I never wanted my children to feel what anxiety feels like, and although I tried to keep them from the struggles I had with it, I know there were times that they knew and they witnessed my mental illness.

This didn’t make my daughter have a mental illness. It is not my fault. Sometimes I still have to repeat that to myself to make myself believe it.

I have 3 children. She is the only one that has been diagnosed with a mental illness, although my youngest displays familiar anxiety symptoms I am watching. Although environmental factors can contribute to mental illness, genetics is something that I understand to be a huge factor in our family along with environment. I have since learned about the long history of mental illness on my mom’s side of the family.

We always want to know a reason. As if knowing the why and how will make it better somehow.

Whatever the reason my mom, myself, and my daughter have been diagnosed with a mental illness, the fact remains, that this is a illness, and no one is to blame.

When Mental Illness is Hereditary


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APA Reference
, A. (2019). When Mental Illness is Hereditary. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Nov 2019 (Originally: 3 Oct 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Nov 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.