Mental health disorders affect how the suffering individual thinks, acts and feels.

Someone with a mental health condition may find their lives very seriously impacted by the disorder. They can have severe consequences including affecting how they earn a living, how they cope with every day scenarios and how they are able to socially connect with others.

One of the most common questions patients and families have after an attempted suicide attempt or after being diagnosed with a serious mental health condition is “What caused this, why did it happen?”

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has conducted extensive research into mental health disorders and has found that they can be affected by a combination of psychological, biological, environmental and also genetic factors. Today more and more research is being done around genetics in mental health and they are discovering that there are certain genes and variations of genes which are associated with mental health disorders.

There are various ways that you can look into your genetic make up for clues about your mental health condition. Your family history can help as certain mental health disorders will run through families and you may be able to see a clear line between what is affecting you and what affects someone else in your close family.

Genes are made up of DNA and exist in every cell of our body. They are passed down from parents to their children. Research has been advancing rapidly in our knowledge of the role genetics play in mental health and today there are a various tests such as traditional genetic testing and genome scans which can: flag up any changes in your genes with may increase your risk of developing disease; diagnose disease; determine how severe the disease is as well as being able to look for certain variations in your genes if you have already been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. This will help clinicians understand more about your disease and guide them as to the best treatment plan for you.

Today with the extensive research that is being undertaken around the world looking into genes and mental health, we now know that the idea of one gene causing a mental disorder is no longer feasible. It is actually multiple genes which interact with various psychological, biological and environmental factors to produce a risk of mental disorder.

These discoveries will have profound implications on clinical practice as they will not only help explain the transmission of certain diseases through families, but also aid to focus the search for the environmental risk factors of the disease that are able to be modified. Knowledge of genetics should be able to inform new therapy practices which can not only target the symptoms of the mental health condition but also what causes it in each individual. It will also enable very precise individualised treatment of a condition.