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Do Anxiety Disorders have a tendency to skip over generations?

Hello, everyone. Just had a question about this. I myself am a third-year psychology student. I have both generalized Anxiety Disorder and Ocd. However, I receive treatment for both. While talking to a counselor, she asked if anyone else in my family had them. I mentioned I always suspected my paternal grandfather had some Anxiety Disorder, and always had ulcers and consumed tums the way some people consume candy. I had read that they do tend to skip over generations, but I was just wondering if it is really true.

No, there is no genetic/biological reason why an illness would “skip” a generation. Skipping generations does not actually happen, it just sometimes appears that way because of inheritance. Here’s an example, using your own situation. Let’s say your grandfather really did have an anxiety disorder, the way you suspect he did. He marries your grandmother, who does not have anxiety. He passes half of his “anxious” genes to your father, so your father gets half “anxious” genes and half “calm” genes. Your father doesn’t show much anxiety because he doesn’t have two sets of anxious genes.

But now let’s say your mother has one set of anxious genes too, that she got from one of her parents, who might have also had just one set of anxious genes. If both your father and mother gave you their one set of anxious genes, you would end up with 2 sets of anxious genes, and would have an anxiety disorder like your grandfather.

Real genetics is way, way more complicated than that, but I just used that as a very basic example to show why it sometimes appears that disorders skip generations. It doesn’t have anything to do with the genes disappearing temporarily, it’s just a matter of how many genes you inherit that directly impact anxiety, and also the environment you are raised in. Your grandfather may have had a lot of environmental factors that caused his anxiety to develop, whereas your father did not, but you did. That would be another reason why the anxious genes expressed themselves in your grandfather and you, but not your father.

Realistically, it is probably the case that MOST people carry the genes for some kind of Mental Illness, they just don’t have all of the genes necessary to develop a disorder, or they do but they don’t have the environmental factors to set off the disorder. Anxiety Disorders affect up to 1/3 of the population… that is a lot of people carrying around “anxious” genes. You have to assume that with such a high prevalence rate, a sizable proportion of people probably have some sort of mutation or unique set of alleles that make them more prone to anxiety, it’s just a matter of the conditions being right.

I hope that helps!

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