Genetics linked to childhood emotional, psychiatric problems

Emotional, social and psychiatric problems in children and adolescents have been linked to higher levels of genetic vulnerability for adult depression, researchers have found.

For the findings, published in the JAMA Psychiatry, the research team analysed the genetic data of more than 42,000 children and adolescents from seven cohorts across Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

The study found a link with a higher genetic vulnerability for insomnia, neuroticism and body mass index(BMI). “By contrast, study participants with higher genetic scores for educational attainment and emotional wellbeing were found to have reduced childhood problems,” said study researcher Christel Middeldorp from the University of Queensland in Australia.

For results, researchers calculated a person”s level of genetic vulnerability by adding up the number of risk genes they had for a specific disorder or trait, and then made adjustments based on the level of importance of each gene.

“We found the relationship was mostly similar across ages,” Middeldorp added.The results indicate there are shared genetic factors that affect a range of psychiatric and related traits across a person”s lifespan.

According to the researchers, around 50 per cent of children and adolescents with psychiatric problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), continue to experience mental disorders as adults and are at risk of disengaging with their school community among other social and emotional problems.

“Our findings are important as they suggest this continuity between childhood and adult traits is partly explained by genetic risk,” Middeldorp said.Individuals at risk of being affected should be the focus of attention and targeted treatment, the researchers said.

“Although the genetic vulnerability is not accurate enough at this stage to make individual predictions about how a person”s symptoms will develop over time, it may become so in the future, in combination with other risk factors,” said Middeldorp.

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