Massage therapists are no strangers to stress and the various forms it takes. In fact, some groups of massage therapists specialize in addressing clients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Generalized anxiety and depression also lead many clients to massage.

New research shows there is a genetic connection between PTSD, depression and anxiety.

In 1988, a massive earthquake in Armenia killed 17,000 people and destroyed nearly half the town of Gumri. Now, in the first multigenerational study of its kind, UCLA researchers studying survivors of that catastrophe have discovered that vulnerability to PTSD, anxiety and depression runs in families.

Armen Goenjian, a research psychiatrist in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and colleagues studied 200 participants from 12 multigenerational families exposed to the earthquake. Participants suffered from varying degrees of the disorders. The researchers found that 41 percent of the variation of PTSD symptoms was due to genetic factors and that 61 percent of the variation of depressive symptoms and 66 percent of anxiety symptoms were attributable to genetics. Further, they found that a large proportion of the genetic liabilities for the disorders were shared.

“This was a study of multigenerational family members — parents and offspring, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, and so on — and we found that the genetic makeup of some of these individuals renders them more vulnerable to develop PTSD, anxiety and depressive symptoms,” said Goenjian, a member of the UCLA–Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress and lead author of the study.

Goenjian noted, the study suggests that a large percentage of genes are shared between the disorders. Other research has examined the role of genetics in PTSD, specifically.

The findings are promising for the next step in understanding the underlying biology of these disorders, which is locating the specific genes involved, Goenjian said.

The research appears in the December issue of the journal Psychiatric Genetics.

Editor’s note: for a comprehensive list of emergency-=response massage teams, see “Massage to the Rescue: Volunteer Organizations Provide Relief from Pain and Stress,” in MASSAGE Magazine’s 2009 Buyers Guide, available the last week of December.