Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stress at Home Could Trigger Depression

Stress at Home Could Trigger Depression

By Lucy Williams, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A dysfunctional home causes more than just stress -- it can also trigger depression in young adults. New research reveals a warm home environment can suppress and even override a genetic tendency for depression.

People who carry a short version of the serotonin transporter gene, called 5-HTTLPR, are more susceptible to depression than those with the longer version. According to a new study led by Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D., at the University of California in Los Angeles, a warm and supportive home environment could be the secret to suppressing this gene and preventing depression in children.

"The big surprise was to discover that not only is the effect of the gene wiped out, but it actually reverses," Dr. Taylor told Ivanhoe. "It becomes protective against depression in the context of a nurturing early family life or a current nurturing social environment."

Researchers studied 5-HTTLPR in 118 young adults. Twenty-seven percent of participants carried two copies of the short form of the gene. These participants were most likely to be depressed, but only when they reported a dysfunctional home environment.

The study indicates the short form of the serotonin transporter gene is very responsive to environmental factors. Researchers conclude nurture, not just nature, contributes to depression in young adults.

Even relatively mild family dysfunction can elevate a young person's risk for depression. No study participants reported physical or sexual abuse. The sources of conflict were milder, like unaffectionate or "distant" relationships with family members.

Even if your family has a deep history of depression, your child is not necessarily destined for depression. This study suggests the onset of depression can be prevented with a strong support system at home. Dr. Taylor said all families, not just families with a history of depression, can benefit from less stress at home.

"I think a happy home life and supportive social environment are benefits to everybody," Dr. Taylor said. "People need to be attuned to the fact that the kind of home life you construct for your children actually has an impact on their vulnerabilities across their lifetimes."

SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D., University of California in Los Angeles; Biological Psychiatry, 2006;60:819-824

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