Scientists have identified a gene that can drive some children to depression.
The gene appears to be linked to variations that have long been linked to bipolar disorder.
Studying children that had the gene, researchers found they were more prone to depression and had severe reactions to stressful situations.
‘We’ve known that children of patients with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of developing the illness but the biological mechanisms are largely unknown,’ said lead author Dr Gabriel R. Fries of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
‘By analyzing the blood of children of controls and comparing it to children of bipolar patients, we identified several genes or markers that can explain the increased risk.’
Researchers analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cells from a total of 18 children and adolescents.
They were split into three groups: bipolar patients, unaffected offspring of bipolar parents, and children of parents with no history of psychiatric disorders.
The analysis revealed that, compared to children in the control group, bipolar patients and unaffected offspring of bipolar parents had genetic alterations that can influence the response to stress.
‘All combine to modulate the response to stress in these children,’ Dr Fries said.
‘We know from clinical studies of behavior and the environment that when children are chronically exposed to stressors, they are at a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder.
‘Bipolar parents may struggle because of their disease, leading to higher environmental stress.
‘Their children, because of the genetic markers they have, could be more vulnerable to stress.’
The genetic alterations that researchers discovered were validated in blood samples of unrelated adult bipolar patients, Dr Fries said.
New avenues of research could include the effects of reducing environmental stress, as well as whether pharmacological agents might be able to reverse the genetic alternations in vulnerable children before the disorder develops.
Dr Fries said the study is an essential step as we race to understand mental health issues among children.
The last few years have seen a rapid uptick in the number of children diagnosed with depression and other mental health conditions.
That could be partly down to better testing and a higher rate of parents seeking treatment for their children.
It also stems from different causes. Some children may be subjected to bullying or difficulties at home, while some children – as Dr Fries’s study found – could be genetically predisposed to experiencing intense stress.
Finding the root cause, or at least understanding the plethora of causes, is critical, Dr Fries say.
Indeed, a study published last month showed children as young as four are displaying signs of panic attacks, eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
In the UK, researchers found 98 percent of teachers and school leaders had detected mental health problems in young students.
In terms of the cause of their mental health concerns, 91 percent of teachers analyzed in the survey by The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said they believe family problems are to blame, while 84 percent said exam pressure is at fault.
Yet, almost half of teachers claim to have received no training to help better recognize the signs of children battling these issues.
This piece was first seen on the ‘DailyMail Australia’ 10 May 2017.