Dr. Jennifer Payne, an expert on genetics research and mood disorders, visited Brookhaven Retreat October 15-16. During her visit, she shared relevant information about the influences of hormones and genetics on mood disorders.
Mood disorders clearly run in families and genetic influences are stronger in bipolar disorder than major depression. Despite this, science has been unable to identify a clear gene related to increased risk.
Although women have twice the rate of major depression as men, this difference is limited to the reproductive time between puberty and menopause. Before and after this time period, women exhibit no difference in depression rates from men. Because of this, cyclical hormone changes are thought to significantly contribute to mood disorders and mental health issues.
Most women who have underlying mood disorders experience stronger mood symptoms related to hormonal fluctuations. The timing of mood disorder symptoms can determine if a woman’s disorder is hormone related. If a woman’s illness is indeed hormone related, hormonal treatments may be used to stabilize mood, though other non-hormonal treatments may be recommended as well.
In any mood disorder, women are at increased risk for mood changes during the premenstrual and postpartum time periods. Women who destabilize premenstrually can address this risk during treatment. It is also important to follow women at risk for depression and mood disorders very closely during the pregnancy and postpartum period.
An increased awareness of genetic and hormonal risk factors could help women prepare for the possibility of a mood disorder. Dr. Payne is currently working to find the epigenetic and genetic markers associated with postpartum depression by isolating and studying a group of women who experienced postpartum depression shortly after giving birth.
It is important for all women to be vigilant of the genetic and hormonal influences that could affect their mental health throughout life. With knowledge of individual risk factors and periods of vulnerability, women are able to take their mental health in hand and get appropriate treatment as soon as necessary.