Having a family history of depression doesn't mean you'll definitely become depressed. And just because everyone in your family is relentlessly upbeat doesn't mean you'll never experience a bout of depression yourself. But people with parents, grandparents, siblings or other blood relatives who've suffered from depression have a higher risk of suffering from the disease. In a UCLA study of 12 multigenerational families who lived through a massive Armenian earthquake, up to 61 percent of the depressive symptoms suffered by the subjects had a genetic basis. Anxiety symptoms ranked even higher on the heritability scale at 66 percent. Simply put, if you come from a line of people who tend toward depression and other mood disorders, it may be easier for you to become depressed than it is for someone who has no relatives suffering from depression.

But don't despair. There's plenty you can do to stave off depression, even if it seems like everyone in your family is destined to endure it. How can you protect yourself? According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the following tips can help you keep your mental state balanced and positive:

  • Work out. A sedentary lifestyle increases your depression risk, while physical activity lowers it. Go for walks, take up weight training, or hop on a bike to improve your mood.
  • Watch your diet. Consuming lots of empty calories and not enough healthful whole grains, lean protein and produce increases your risk of depression. Load up on salads, fresh fruit and low-fat dairy and meats.
  • Avoid stress. Learn basic breathing and relaxation techniques to help you deal with the curve balls life will inevitably throw you.
  • Don't abuse drugs or alcohol. They can send you into a downward spiral that's difficult to get out of.
  • Improve your environment. Try to rid your life of violence, abuse, neglect or poverty.

Try as you might, there are certain risk factors for depression you just can't control, such as being female and growing older. The hormonal changes of pregnancy, birth, miscarriage, perimenopause and menopause also can bring on depression. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event may trigger depression as well. But no matter what your family history or current circumstances, if you find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, hopeless or worthless, talk to your healthcare provider about getting the right treatment as soon as possible.