Anxiety in children is partially caused by genetics
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Anxiety in children is partially caused by genetics, UQ researchers find

Anxiety in children is partially caused by genetics, UQ researchers find

by Freya Lucas

April 26, 2022

In the largest study of its kind in the world, the genetics of 64,641 children, aged between three and eighteen years, were analysed using longitudinal data from the Early Genetics and Lifeforce Epidemiology consortium, leading researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) to discover that hereditary factors are partly responsible for childhood anxiety and depression that persists into adulthood.


Children with similar levels of anxiety and depression had genetics which were also similar, Professor Christel Middeldorp explained.


The study also revealed a genetic overlap between childhood and adult mental health disorders when comparing the results in this childhood study with results of previous studies in adults.


“These findings are important because they help identify people most at risk of symptoms continuing across the lifespan, so intense treatment can be provided where needed,” Professor Middeldorp said.


It’s the first time researchers have conducted such a large scale study examining the role of genetics in repeated measures of anxiety and depression in children. 


The genetic variants, Professor Middeldorp continued, needed to be investigated because they increased the risk of recurrence and co-occurrence with other disorders.


“Mental health symptoms often come together, so those who experience anxiety or depression have a greater risk of disorders such as ADHD or aggressive behaviour,” she said.


Genetics account for around 40 per cent of a person’s risk of suffering anxiety and depression, with environmental factors accounting for the rest. Professor Middeldorp explained that while everyone could feel anxious or depressed from time to time, some people were better able to adjust to life’s circumstances.


“People with an anxiety disorder ruminate about 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.” 


Researchers will now analyse the interplay of genetics and environmental variables, such as school and family life, to see how together they influence childhood anxiety and depression.


To access the study, which has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry please see here

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