DNA double helix structure representing the role of genetics in mental health.

31 May, 24

The Role of Genetics in Mental Health: What We Know So Far

 

Are mental health issues a result of the gruesome and unfavorable circumstances we grew up in and surround ourselves with? Or does genetics have something to do with it? Understanding the role genetics has in the mental health of an individual can be instrumental in getting to the root of the issues and finding the right treatment or cure for the same. This is the concept we are going to explore today. Let us begin then, shall we?

Genetics and Mental Health

We all know how environmental factors play a huge role in individuals developing mental health illnesses. The latest studies on the human genome shed light on how genetics also has a major influence in determining the level of mental health we have. An individual's genetic makeup can significantly affect their mental well-being. Having certain gene types can make you more likely to have mental health problems like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Changes in genes that control hormones like serotonin and dopamine have been linked to feelings of sadness and worry. Changes in genes that are thought to control brain growth and function have been linked to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Genetics being linked to mental health has more aspects to it than what meets the eye. If you have a history of mental health issues in your family, then there is a high chance you might have to face it at some point in your life. Early knowledge helps in seeking early treatment or taking preventative steps. It becomes even more relevant when you think of starting a family and having children. If you or your partner has a history of mental health issues, your children might also have a chance of inheriting the same. But the severity can definitely differ.

Some of the genetic factors that contribute to mental illness are:

  • Genetic polymorphisms: Genetic polymorphisms are DNA variations that occur in more than 1% of a population. They are also known as the simultaneous occurrence of two or more discontinuous genotypes or alleles in a population.
  • Epigenetic regulation: Epigenetic regulation is a process that controls the activity of a gene by the structure of nearby chromatin.
  • Single gene changes: There are several genetic disorders that result from the change in a single gene. It can result in mental health issues in certain conditions.

The Genetics of Common Mental Disorders

To understand the degree of influence genetics has on the idea of mental health, we can now discuss the different branches of genetics with respect to mental disorders:

Heritability

It focuses on the degree to which genetic factors contribute to individual differences in a trait within a population. Genetics have a big role in mental illness, according to heritability studies. Twin studies show that identical and fraternal twins share 100% and 50% of their DNA, respectively, pass on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Genetics affect susceptibility because mental disorders are inherited in little to big levels. Heritability estimates vary by group and calculation technique. Mental disorders are linked to genetics, but environmental and developmental factors influence them. This highlights the necessity to explore mental disorder causes from several angles.

Polygenic Risk Scores (PRS)

Polygenic risk scores (PRS) assess genetic susceptibility to a disorder by analyzing numerous genetic variants across the genome. Personal genetic data and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that uncover disease-linked genetic variants are used to compute PRS. Instead of describing genetic risk for mental illnesses, PRS quantifies it. PRS have disadvantages but can forecast danger and identify high-risk individuals who need early intervention. Clinically defining PRS and applying them to varied groups may be problematic. PRS only reveals a small portion of mental disorder hereditary risk, and genetic and environmental factors can interact intricately, making them less trustworthy. Despite these challenges, PRS can help us understand how genetics affect mental illness and improve treatment and prevention.

Candidate Genes and Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS)

Candidate gene studies and genome-wide association studies are popular methods for finding mental disease-related genetic variants. Scientists use biology knowledge to target problem-related genes in candidate gene research. GWAS search the whole genome for disease-related genetic variants. GWAS have identified genetic variants linked to bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and depression. The effects of GWAS variants are generally small. This suggests several minor genetic factors enhance mental illness risk. Many GWAS studies find new disease-related genes and pathways. This shows its biology. Some GWAS have been successful, however low sample sizes, demographic stratification, and multiple genes causing mental illnesses are difficulties. Many people must work together to solve these problems.

Shared Genetic Risk

There is evidence that certain inherited factors enhance mental disease risk. Genetically similar people have higher mental illnesses. Genome-wide studies link schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to genetic differences. Multiple illnesses may share genetics. People with mental illnesses are more prone to have them. Genetic risk factors from parents may cause this. Transdiagnostic methods in mental research and therapy, which focus on basic processes rather than disorder-specific symptoms, are also highlighted by shared genetic risk. Despite their inherent risk, each sickness has distinct genetic and environmental factors. The etiology of these diseases are complicated. Genetic risk can help us diagnose, treat, and understand mental illness.

Gene-Environment Interactions

When genetic predispositions and environmental circumstances interact, a person's risk of mental illness increases or decreases. Genetic characteristics matter, but environmental stresses like childhood trauma, life experiences, and finances can alter genetic vulnerability. People genetically predisposed to depression may be more influenced by life stressors, increasing their risk of the disorder. Gene-environment interactions are complex and reciprocal. Environmental stressors alter gene expression and function, which affects stress sensitivity. Understanding how genes and the environment interact is crucial to understanding mental disease causes and developing targeted therapies that address genetic and environmental risk factors. Also, studying how genes and the environment interact may help identify those at risk for mental problems and find strategies to prevent them.

Epigenetics

Gene activation can alter without modifying the DNA coding by changing DNA or DNA-linked proteins. This is epigenetics. Epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation, histone changes, and non-coding RNAs, regulate gene activity in response to environmental signals and throughout development. Schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety are connected to dysfunctional epigenetic processes. For instance, psychiatric patients have altered DNA methylation at gene promoters. Epigenetic mechanisms may contribute to disease development. Environmental variables, including stress, diet, and pollutants, can alter epigenetic processes. This illustrates how genetics and environment impact mental health. Understanding how epigenetics affects mental problems might help us understand how diseases operate and identify novel strategies to cure them by restoring normal control. However, further research is needed to completely understand how epigenetic regulation influences mental health and employ these findings in treatment.

Seeking Help is Important

Understanding the genetic point of view of mental health makes us open up and expand our views on the topics. It makes us understand that some elements of mental health can be due to hereditary and genetics. But the solution to these problems remains the same: seeking help. Zivanza Wellness and our expert team of psychiatrists and psychologists are here to help you get to the bright side with the right treatments and a safe space to open up.

 

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