What is the Genetic Linkage Between High Achievers, Depression, and Suicide?


How genetics contribute to depression

Are you the type of person who is always looking to be the best? Maybe you recite your career goals as a mantra at the start of every week, and you move on to your next ambition before you’ve really had a chance to celebrate your latest success. Perhaps your team feels like they get left behind sometimes when you run full speed ahead towards your most recent great idea.

These are all signs that you are a high achiever. But there’s one other sign that might surprise you: struggling with depression.

According to new research from the DNA Company, there is a genetic link between achievement and depression. Both of these stem from having certain versions of specific genes. You’ll be able to find out if you’re more prone towards achievement and depression when you get your genes tested.

If you’re battling depression, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Reach out to a medical professional, therapist, or trusted friend to partner with you in creating a treatment plan. Your mental health matters, and you deserve to find solutions to live a healthy life.

The connection between achievement and depression

It might seem like highly-successful people are happy all the time. After all, they usually have fancy cars, a photogenic family, and plenty of spending money. But as we all know from scrolling through our social media feeds, things aren’t always as they seem.

High achievers are often severely dissatisfied with their lives. This is actually what drives them to continue achieving. They think getting one more promotion, starting one more company, or buying one more vacation home will finally make them happy. Sadly, happiness is usually just outside of their reach.

The link between achievement and depression lies in your pleasure response. If you’re genetically wired to have low dopamine levels, you’re don’t feel as much pleasure as someone with normal amounts of dopamine would feel. This drives you to continue seeking pleasure and taking risks to allow yourself to experience that elusive pleasure.

Not having sufficient dopamine can make you depressed as well. If you’re constantly chasing your next high and rarely achieving it, you’re likely to become depressed. While depression isn’t always single handedly caused by genetics, it often has a genetic component.

A UCSF study confirms the link between entrepreneurs and depression. Shockingly, 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed in the study reported having a mental health condition. Furthermore, 30% of all entrepreneurs surveyed had depression, which was the top mental illness present among them. This is much higher than the rate of depression in the overall adult population, which is approximately 7%.

The ultimate symptom of depression is suicide. The tragic stories of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Austen Heinz, Aaron Swartz, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, and many other entrepreneurs point to this unfortunate reality. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For those outside the United States, call your local hospital.

The role of genetics in achievement and depression

There are three primary genes related to dopamine, and these three genes work together to determine your pleasure response. The two main pleasure responses are the risk-reward response and the binging response. High achievers typically experience the risk-reward response.

The first gene is your DRD2 gene. This gene determines the amount of dopamine receptors in your brain. You’ll either have a high-density or a low-density version of this gene. The more receptors you have, the more intense pleasure you’ll feel. That’s why having the low-density version of the DRD2 gene is associated with the risk-reward response.

The second gene is the MAO gene. This gene breaks down the dopamine so your body can return to its normal state. You can either have a fast or slow version of this gene. The slow version of the MAO gene allows you to experience that dopamine hit for longer, while the fast version means your pleasure is gone as quickly as it came.

The third gene is your COMT gene. This gene produces an enzyme that flushes dopamine out of your system. You can either have the fast or slow version of this gene. The slower your COMT gene, the more dopamine you’ll have–and the longer your feeling of pleasure will last. Having a fast COMT gene makes you more likely to experience the risk-reward response because your dopamine levels are low.

Now let’s consider what different combinations of these genes would mean. If you have the high-density version of the DRD2 gene, the slow version of the MAO gene, and the slow version of the COMT gene, you’re likely to experience frequent and lasting pleasure. This can make you more prone to binge-watching and other binging behaviors because you can’t let go of that pleasurable feeling you have.

On the other hand, having the low-density version of the DRD2 gene along with the fast version of both the MAO gene and the COMT gene makes it difficult for you to feel pleasure that lasts. This makes you more likely to be a thrill seeker who is constantly chasing that elusive feeling of pleasure. Taking risks goes hand-in-hand with being a high achiever, and the lack of pleasure can also make you depressed.

Is there anything you can do about your pleasure response? Actually, there is. Once you’re aware of your genetic makeup, you can take steps to manage your pleasure response in a healthy way.

Case study: our team

At the DNA Company, our team is probably not all that different from the team you might be a part of. We have people with different skills, different weaknesses, and, of course, different genetics.

Our CEO, Kashif Khan, describes himself as a high achiever with extreme reward-seeking behavior. He is always challenging himself to become better. Another founding partner on our team is highly analytical with the exact opposite genetic wiring of Kashif.

Before we developed a more complete understanding of our own genetics, these differences often resulted in clashes at the office. While Kashif would be constantly sharing new ideas, his partner would be deeply committed to older ideas that he was still analyzing. This caused them to be frustrated with each other, even though they had the same vision for the company.

Eventually, a genetic deep dive allowed them to finally understand each other. They began to appreciate each other’s strengths and even come to rely on them. What used to create friction became the perfect blend of skills and talents that have made our company become successful.

Natural treatments for depression

Based on your genetic wiring, there are a number of ways you can treat depression naturally. Of course, when it comes to treating clinical depression, medication is often necessary. Make sure you consult a doctor to work with you on your treatment plan. 

Does taking measures to treat your depressive tendencies mean you’ll lose your entrepreneurial spirit? Not at all. In fact, it can make you a much more well-balanced, content, understanding individual who continues to drive the company to become the best it can be. Here are some natural treatments for depression you can try:

  • Exercise every day
  • Stick to a diet of nutritious foods
  • Listen to uplifting music every day
  • Stop using your phone a couple of hours before going to sleep
  • Start a relaxing habit such as meditation before bed
  • Limit your daily news and social media intake
  • Try supplements such as vitamin D, omega-3, magnesium, and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

Are you wondering whether you’re genetically predisposed to depression? The best way to find out is by decoding your genes through our 360 DNA Report. You’ll discover whether you are wired to be a high achiever as well as 37 other custom reports surrounding sleep, diet, nutrition, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.

Each custom report includes your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your health and wellness. You are a unique individual, and you deserve health strategies that reflect your unique genome. Get started today.
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