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Daphne Merkin

Is Depression Inherited?

SOME of my happiest moments have been spent as a mother. I say this despite being a constitutionally unhappy person who has fought all her life against an encroaching darkness — and not always successfully.

Those moments stretch back decades — to, say, summer mornings in a rented cottage on Block Island, when I, an inveterate late sleeper, would be awakened shortly past dawn by my 10-month-old daughter, Zoë, standing up in her crib, cheerfully gurgling at me, raring to begin the day. And they are as recent as last week when Zoë, now 22, and I engaged in one of our long analytical talks about the movie we had just watched, and I was struck by the ways in which her mind works differently from mine and by certain perceptual habits we have in common.

My battles with chronic depression have landed me in a psychiatric unit several times since my daughter was born. She was 6 months old when I was first hospitalized, 7 years old the second time, and 18 the last time. I worry about the impact on her of those separations, relatively short as they were, and I worry more about the effect of living with a mother who often fights to keep afloat. (I have been divorced from Zoë’s father since she was about 4, and we have spent large periods of one-on-one time together.) Although I know that depression is not something you can catch from another person, like chickenpox, I fear that my susceptibility will somehow “rub off” on my daughter — that she might pattern her responses to life’s inevitable difficulties after my own.

The New York Times | July 28, 2012.


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