Genetic link between childhood and adult anxiety and depression
Hereditary factors are partly responsible for childhood anxiety and depression that persist into adulthood, according to an international study published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
In what is considered the largest study of its kind in the world, the genetics of 64,641 children, aged three to 18, were analyzed using longitudinal data from the Early Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology consortium. Professor Christel Middeldorp, from the University of Queensland (UQ), said the study showed children who had similar levels of anxiety and depression were also genetically similar.
“It also revealed a genetic overlap between childhood and adult mental health disorders when comparing the results of this childhood study with the results of previous studies in adults,” said said Middeldorp.
“These results are important because they help identify those most at risk of symptoms persisting throughout life, so that intensive treatment can be provided if needed.”
It is believed to be the first time that researchers have conducted such a large-scale study examining the role of genetics in repeated measures of anxiety and depression in children. Middeldorp said genetic variants need to be studied because they increase the risk of recurrence and co-occurrence with other disorders.
“Mental health symptoms often overlap, so those with anxiety or depression have a greater risk of conditions such as ADHD, aggressive behavior,” she said.
“We found that this co-occurrence is also due to genetic variants.”
Genetics accounts for about 40% of a person’s risk for anxiety and depression, with environmental factors accounting for the rest. Middeldorp said while everyone can feel anxious or depressed from time to time, some people are better able to adapt to life’s circumstances.
“People with an anxiety disorder ruminate on their situation, preventing them from moving on,” she said.
“There is a difference in how people respond to stressors, and part of that difference is genetic.”
The researchers will now analyze the interplay of genetics and environmental variables, such as school and family life, to see how they together influence anxiety and depression in children.
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