A new study has found that most individuals who are diagnosed with one mental health condition may find that they also have other psychiatric conditions. The study discovered that a number of mental health conditions share some genetic similarities, and this finding explains why multiple conditions are common among individuals suffering from psychiatric disorders.
Over one-half of individuals with a mental illness often have two or three conditions, with almost one-third suffering from four or more conditions. This makes it harder for clinicians to identify and treat these indications. However, this new discovery may help researchers develop new therapies for mental comorbidities and new ways to diagnose mental health conditions.
University of Colorado’s Andrew Grotzinger, the lead author of the study, stated in a university news release that the research was enabling progress toward the creation of a diagnostic manual that better mapped what was actually happening in an individual’s body biologically.
For their research, the scientists carried out a genetic analysis of 11 major mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, problematic alcohol use, bipolar disorder, autism, major depressive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa and anxiety disorder.
While there is no set of genes linked to all of these disorders, the researchers did find that some subsets possess genetic similarities. These subsets include anxiety and major depressive disorder; obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia nervosa; and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. For instance, 70% of the genetic signal linked to schizophrenia is also linked to bipolar disorder. However, the researchers noted that under current diagnostic guidelines, individuals weren’t typically diagnosed with both mental illnesses.
The researchers also discovered strong shared genetics between obsessive-compulsive disorder and anorexia, explaining that individuals who were genetically predisposed to a low BMI or a smaller body type also tended to be genetically predisposed to these mental conditions.
In total, the scientists identified more than 150 genetic variants shared across various mental health conditions, including variants that they know affect specific types of brain cells.
Grotzinger, who is an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explained that more studies were needed to pinpoint the effects of the variants they identified. He then noted that better understanding the genetics that underlie these disorders may also offer comfort to some individuals with multiple mental health conditions.
The study’s findings were reported in the “Nature Genetics” journal.
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