Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family


Depression is a widespread psychological severe disorder, leading to many adverse outcomes. Its pathogenesis is still the subject of controversy among researchers. This paper examines the possibilities of depression and anxiety in one family through the study of literature and applying one of the family theories – Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory. Although depression does not necessarily appear in everyone in whose family the disorder is present, a family history significantly increases the chance of its development.

Problem Background

Studying depression pathogenesis is necessary to find effective treatment measures. Common symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) are depressed mood, anhedonia, that is, inability to feel pleasure, anxiety, and other problems, even including suicidal thoughts (Wang et al., 2021). About 17% of Americans experience depressive episodes during their lives (Gotlib et al., 2020). At the same time, this disorder is costly for people suffering from it and in the context of national scales since those who suffer from depression cannot live and work fully using their abilities and opportunities. The harm caused by MDD is enormous, which indicates the need to treat and prevent the disorder.

Researchers study the risks of depression and anxiety by investigating various factors. In particular, transmission in the family attracts special attention. Gene abnormalities present about 40-50% of the risk of depression (Wang et al., 2021). For example, some receptors can alter neuronal plasticity, glucocorticoid hormones make people more vulnerable to depression, and the reduced activity of some receptors interferes with the processes of serotonin production (Wang et al., 2021). These factors can lead to depression, and genes transmitted by parents to children largely determine the chemical regulation of the brain. Therefore, depression of family members increases the risk of developing the disorder in their relatives.

Genetics is not the only family risk factor for MDD. Moreover, scientists recognize that its appearance requires a combination of genetics and the environment, namely the family and social environment (Wang et al., 2021). For example, family relationships, the support provided, the presence or absence of conflicts, and similar factors have an essential role (Finan et al., 2018). Family and its functioning are also an influential mechanism in the intergenerational transmission of depression (Daches et al., 2018; Gotlib et al., 2020). For example, studying children and adolescents of mothers with depression, Gotlib et al. (2020) noted their distinctive features as a group. Such children have difficulties building interpersonal relationships, in reward- or approach-related functions, and stress reactivity (Gotlib et al., 2020). Thus, the study confirms the high risk of intergenerational transmission of MDD.

Family life, parenthood style, and family functioning are essential factors in the mechanism of depression and anxiety transmission. Daches et al.’s (2018) study proves that family dysfunction predicts depression. Mothers and children at high risk of this disorder were more likely to report dysfunction than study participants with the low-risk (Daches et al., 2018). As a consequence, familial dysfunction mediated intergenerational transmission of MDD (Daches et al., 2018). Thus, several studies prove that the chance of depression increases with a family history of the disorder.

Family Theory. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Systems Theory

The family environment is unique, and various researchers and theorists have created several theories for its understanding. Applying different approaches makes it possible to construct assumptions about the factors and mechanisms of transmission of depression and anxiety in families. This paper considers Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, which the author later revised and renamed into a bioecological model (Guy-Evans, 2020). According to this theory, several levels of the environment affect the child’s development. As a result, to study the development process, it is necessary to pay attention not only to the child and their closest environment but also to broader levels (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). This theory emphasizes the complexity of the factors influencing children.

Key concepts of the theory explain the structures of the environment. They have different effects on children, and each is inside the next, creating a multi-layered ball, the core of which is the child. The structures are as follows:

  • The microsystem has the direct and most significant impact on the child’s development and includes family, peers, and teachers (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Family relations are most important for the development of children.
  • The mesosystem encompasses relationships between those who affect the child in the microsystem, such as parents and school teachers.
  • An exosystem is external to children but still impacts them, for example, government agencies, the neighborhood, and similar structures (Bronfenbrenner, 1977).
  • The macrosystem encompasses the cultural elements of the society in which children live, such as socio-economic status, ethnicity, and similar aspects.
  • A chronosystem is a variety of changes as historical events or life transitions. They can include moving or new government, which will bring changes.

After revising the theory, the author shifted the emphasis from the environment. In the bioecological model, Bronfenbrenner noted the importance of development processes that occur during long-term interactions of people with the environment (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994). As a result, considerable attention is paid not only to the surrounding factors but also to the people themselves and the consequences of development. Such a theory version further emphasizes the uniqueness of personality.

Family Theory Analysis

Bronfenbrenner’s theory has its advantages and disadvantages but can be applied to the studied problem. It offers a holistic approach to understanding child development and reflects the dynamics of family relationships (Guy-Evans, 2020). Moreover, the theory emphasizes the uniqueness of each person, for example, in the context of different results of development processes. This theory can be helpful in understanding and assisting migrant children in new cultural settings. Nevertheless, the approach has some drawbacks, limiting its application in different situations.

One limitation of ecological theory is the difficulty of empirical testing. It covers many levels of influence, and it is challenging to confirm the effect of each of them (Guy-Evans, 2020). Another limitation is that it involves only negative development for children growing up in ecological systems that do not have a positive impact (Guy-Evans, 2020). The theory also devotes insufficient influence to biological factors of development. However, a key disadvantage is the theory’s breadth and consequently difficulty in determining the number of details for analysis and in approach implementation.

It is possible to apply bioecological theory to the study of depression transmission in families. It is worth noting that families belong to the microsystem, which has the most significant impact on the child’s development (Finan et al., 2018). Interactions in the microsystem should stimulate and support the development of the child. In turn, depressed parents are more likely to be distant from their children, and the latter may feel unloved. Such behavior would negatively impact and could lead to problems that Gotlib et al.’s (2020) study discovered – difficulties in relationships and other aspects. Moreover, by interacting with a depressed family member, the child can take examples of behavior and show signs of depression and anxiety, which will later develop.

Findings Summary

Thus, the paper analyzes scientific research and the possibility of applying family theory to explain depression and anxiety run in one family. Studies confirm the critical role of the family in the development of the disorder and track the mechanisms of its intergenerational transmission. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory also emphasizes that the family is key to the development of children, and it can help build assumptions about depression and anxiety transmission. Future studies should focus on preventive measures for high-risk families and deeper investigations of genetic factors.


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, 32(7), 513–531. Web.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Ceci, S. J. (1994). Nature-nuture reconceptualized in developmental perspective: A bioecological model. Psychological Review, 101(4), 568–586. Web.

Daches, S., Vine, V., Layendecker, K. M., George, C. J., & Kovacs, M. (2018). Family functioning as perceived by parents and young offspring at high and low risk for depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 355-360. Web.

Finan, L. J., Ohannessian, C. M., & Gordon, M. S. (2018). Trajectories of depressive symptoms from adolescence to emerging adulthood: The influence of parents, peers, and siblings. Developmental Psychology, 54(8), 1555–1567. Web.

Gotlib, I. H., Goodman, S. H., & Humphreys, K. L. (2020). Studying the intergenerational transmission of risk for depression: Current status and future directions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(2), 174-179. Web.

Guy-Evans, O. (2020). Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. Simply Psychology. Web.

Wang, H. Q., Wang, Z. Z., & Chen, N. H. (2021). The receptor hypothesis and the pathogenesis of depression: Genetic bases and biological correlates. Pharmacological Research, 105542. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023, September 7). Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family. Retrieved from


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PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family'. 7 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family." September 7, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family." September 7, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Depression and Anxiety Run in the Family." September 7, 2023.