Birkbeck, University of London: Teen Mental Health Not Just About Genes | India Education | Latest education news | Worldwide educational news


Hereditary factors play less of a role in mental health for some teens, especially those who have experienced a range of environmental problems – according to new research from Birkbeck; University of Oxford; and the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.

The research team says the findings — which involved nearly 10,000 teens in England and Wales and more than 12,000 in Sweden — are important in understanding that there are a number of avenues through which teens may experience mental health problems. For some it is more due to heredity and for others there is more of an environmental component.

Lead researcher Professor Angelica Ronald, professor of psychology and genetics, said: “Genetic research has accelerated rapidly in recent years for mental illness. There is still a tendency to think that mental health is influenced by genes or environment, but we know that both Adolescence is a particularly critical time because most mental health problems begin around this time. Our research is unique in the way it shows how genetic predisposition and environmental difficulties influence each other in their impact on adolescents’ mental health. found that genetic influence played less of a role for some groups of teens, particularly those experiencing significant environmental problems.”

To provide such evidence, Professor Ronald of the Birkbeck Center for Brain and Cognitive Development asked 10,000 16-year-olds in England and Wales about their mental health. The study focused on symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations and extreme lack of motivation. The teens and their parents reported on these symptoms and on a range of environmental problems the teens had experienced, including being bullied and stressful life events. The 16-year-olds were all twins who had enrolled in the study. Studying twins allowed the team to look at the role of hereditary and environmental influences. To support the research, Professor Ronald’s team found the same pattern of results when they worked with a second sample of teenagers, this time based in Sweden.

Professor Ronald states: “Doctors have observed how some mental health problems appear to be caused by environmental problems and this can be in teenagers with no family history of mental health problems. For others, mental health problems seem to arise despite a lack of apparent environmental problems, which may reflect a larger hereditary component. I wanted to test if this was the case.

“We found that the role of genetic influences for symptoms such as paranoia was lower in the teens who experienced more environmental problems. While for teens with paranoia and with fewer environmental problems, the hereditary factors played a greater role.

“Next, what we need to know is how to prevent and support early teen mental health issues. Understanding why these issues are caused is essential and there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. When it comes to the range of causes, more targeted approaches can be used to prevent mental health problems and support the teens who experience them.”

Co-investigator Professor Daniel Freeman, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, noted: “We know that mental health problems, such as excessive distrust of adolescents, can be corrosive, trigger anxiety and limit interaction with friends. For one small proportion it could also be a precursor to further mental health problems.This study sheds fascinating light on the genesis of distrust and shows the avenues that can get people into trouble.Excessive distrust in adolescence is rarely discussed, but could be a central could be a focus in future preventive mental health initiatives.”

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