Sunday, February 08, 2009

Resilience and Heritable Traits

Ok, I think I wrote this, as a forum post for my psych 101 class last year. And yes I just took psych 101, wanted to see what all the fuss was about. No, I didn't like it, got little value out of it and will not return to take psych 102 lol

When I say "I think I wrote this", I mean it. I have a really poor memory, especially for things I write. (the poor memory could explain part of my issues with psych 101). Anyway, if I have inadvertently stolen this from someone I really do apologize.

Inherited Resilience?

When we think of resilience we most often think of it as something that is learned, mostly through healthy parenting and early life experiences that provide support for challenges. In this article James Neill defines psychological resilience as an “individual's capacity to withstand stressors and not manifest psychology dysfunction, such as mental illness or persistent negative mood.”

Twin studies estimate the heritability of major depressive disorder at 0.36 to 0.70. Depression, negative mood, schizophrenia, psychosis, autism and even binge drinking have been recently linked to the neurotransmitter serotonin.
5-HTT is a serotonin transporter that plays an important if not critical role in regulating the reuptake of serotonin.

It seems, based on what I can understand about the research, that some people about 57% inherit 5-HTT with a long alleles and 43% with a short alleles. Those with 2 long alleles seem to have an edge when it comes to resilience and those with one or two short alleles seem to be more prone to depression after a triggering event.

This web page titled “5-HTT: The Gene for Susceptibility to Depression?” was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College. It provided me with the most understandable version of the research and clarified the “short/short” vs. “long/long” allele hypothesis.

R. J. O’Hara for the Collegiate Way (link here) discusses the interrelatedness of genes and environment in children who have been abused. He makes an excellent point in that despite being dealt the genetic equivalent of a poor hand of cards providing support for abused children can mediate the effects of a short/short 5-HTT gene.

What appeals to me about this line of research is the positive side of the double edge sword debate. Some have said that being able to predict a propensity for such things as depression or resilience can have negative effects such as self fulfilling (negative) destiny or the potential that people would be unable to access job opportunities or insurance.

The other side of this is being able to inform people of why they need to take care of themselves. One of the questions most often asked by clients in counseling is “why”. Why is this happening to me? Why do I feel this way?

I think for many people it is comforting to know that it is just the way they are built. In the medical community physicians recognize and incorporate an inherited possibility of cancer, heart disease, etc and help patients manage their lifestyles to mediate the inherited risk. Psychological health is as, if not more, important.

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