Study finds genetic link between anxiety and depression in children and adults – UQ News

According to researchers from the University of Queensland, hereditary factors are partly responsible for childhood anxiety and depression that persists into adulthood.

In the largest study of its kind in the world, the genetics of 64,641 children, ages 3 to 18, were analyzed using longitudinal data from the Early Genetics and Lifeforce Epidemiology consortium.

Professor Christel Middeldorp, who holds a joint position with the UQ Child Health Research Center and Children’s Health Queensland, said the study showed children who had similar levels of anxiety and depression also genetically resembled each other.

“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.

“These findings are important because they help identify those most at risk of symptoms persisting throughout life, so that intense treatment can be provided if needed,” Professor Middeldorp said.

This is 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.

Professor Middeldorp said genetic variants needed to be studied because they increased 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,” said Professor Middeldorp.

Genetics accounts for about 40% of a person’s risk for anxiety and depression, with environmental factors accounting for the rest.

Professor Middeldorp said that 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.

This study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (DOI:10.1016/j.jaac.2021.11.035).

Media: Professor Christel Middeldorp, [email protected]; [email protected], +61 (0)7 3365 5118.

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