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Media opportunity: Dalhousie University study reveals how mental disorders are genetically connected to each other and why multiple diagnoses are the norm when it comes to mental illness

Posted by Communications and Marketing on May 9, 2022 in News

Psychiatric disorders can be caused by a range of genetic and environmental factors, making it difficult for doctors to determine someone's personal risk of developing these disorders. More than half of those diagnosed with one such disorder will be diagnosed with a second in their lifetime, while 50 per cent will have three diagnoses and about a third will develop four or more.

This can make treatment challenging, but a new analysis of 11 major psychiatric disorders offers new insight into why comorbidities are the norm rather than the exception when it comes to mental illness.

Researchers at Dalhousie University, along with colleagues from the U.S., U.K., the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, examined how mental disorders are connected to each other and found that a substantial portion of the genetic underpinning appears to be shared between 11 of the disorders they studied.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, found that subsets of disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and major depression and anxiety, share a common genetic architecture. For example, 70 per cent of the genetic signal associated with schizophrenia is also associated with bipolar disorder.

The discovery is important because it could help indicate what comorbidities a person might develop and inform existing and future treatment options.

Sandra Meier and Manuel Mattheisen, associate professors in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie and co-authors of the study, are available to discuss the research and how it could be used to identify differences in genetic risk and why some people with certain genetic risk factors might develop one illness but not another.

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Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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