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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all our lives, not only through the infection itself but also through the measures taken to control the spread of the virus (e.g. lockdown).
Here, we investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic and unprecedented lockdown affected the mental health of young adults in England and Wales.
We compared the mental health symptoms of up to 4773 twins in their mid-20s in 2018 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (T1) and during four-wave longitudinal data collection during the pandemic in April, July and October 2020, and in March 2021 (T2–T5) using phenotypic and genetic longitudinal designs.
The average changes in mental health were small to medium and mainly occurred from T1 to T2 (average Cohen d = 0.14). Despite the expectation of catastrophic effects of the pandemic on mental health, we did not observe trends in worsening mental health during the pandemic (T3–T5). Young people with pre-existing mental health problems were disproportionately affected at the beginning of the pandemic, but their increased problems largely subsided as the pandemic persisted. Twin analyses indicated that the aetiology of individual differences in mental health symptoms did not change during the lockdown (average heritability 33%); the average genetic correlation between T1 and T2–T5 was 0.95, indicating that genetic effects before the pandemic were substantially correlated with genetic effects up to a year later.
We conclude that on average the mental health of young adults in England and Wales has been remarkably resilient to the effects of the pandemic and associated lockdown.
Mood disorders are characterised by pronounced symptom heterogeneity, which presents a substantial challenge both to clinical practice and research. Identification of subgroups of individuals with homogeneous symptom profiles that cut across current diagnostic categories could provide insights in to the transdiagnostic relevance of individual symptoms, which current categorical diagnostic systems cannot impart.
To identify groups of people with homogeneous clinical characteristics, using symptoms of manic and/or irritable mood, and explore differences between groups in diagnoses, functional outcomes and genetic liability.
We used latent class analysis on eight binary self-reported symptoms of manic and irritable mood in the UK Biobank and PROTECT studies, to investigate how individuals formed latent subgroups. We tested associations between the latent classes and diagnoses of psychiatric disorders, sociodemographic characteristics and polygenic risk scores.
Five latent classes were derived in UK Biobank (N = 42 183) and were replicated in the independent PROTECT cohort (N = 4445), including ‘minimally affected’, ‘inactive restless’, active restless’, ‘focused creative’ and ‘extensively affected’ individuals. These classes differed in disorder risk, polygenic risk score and functional outcomes. One class that experienced disruptive episodes of mostly irritable mood largely comprised cases of depression/anxiety, and a class of individuals with increased confidence/creativity reported comparatively lower disruptiveness and functional impairment.
Findings suggest that data-driven investigations of psychopathological symptoms that include sub-diagnostic threshold conditions can complement research of clinical diagnoses. Improved classification systems of psychopathology could investigate a weighted approach to symptoms, toward a more dimensional classification of mood disorders.
The UK Biobank contains data with varying degrees of reliability and completeness for assessing depression. A third of participants completed a Mental Health Questionnaire (MHQ) containing the gold-standard Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) criteria for assessing mental health disorders.
To investigate whether multiple observations of depression from sources other than the MHQ can enhance the validity of major depressive disorder (MDD).
In participants who did not complete the MHQ, we calculated the number of other depression measures endorsed, for example from hospital episode statistics and interview data. We compared cases defined this way with CIDI-defined cases for several estimates: the variance explained by polygenic risk scores (PRS), area under the curve attributable to PRS, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)-based heritability and genetic correlations with summary statistics from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium MDD genome-wide association study.
The strength of the genetic contribution increased with the number of measures endorsed. For example, SNP-based heritability increased from 7% in participants who endorsed only one measure of depression, to 21% in those who endorsed four or five measures of depression. The strength of the genetic contribution to cases defined by at least two measures approximated that for CIDI-defined cases. Most genetic correlations between UK Biobank and the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium MDD study exceeded 0.7, but there was variability between pairwise comparisons.
Multiple measures of depression can serve as a reliable approximation for case status where the CIDI measure is not available, indicating sample size can be optimised using the entire suite of UK Biobank data.
Early signs of anger and aggression can be identified in infancy. Our aim was to use person-centered methods to identify which infants were most at risk for clinically significant behavioral problems by age 3 and diagnoses of ODD/CD by 7 years, while considering the role of family risk factors and positive parenting. A representative British community sample of 304 infants was assessed by multiple informants at mean ages of 6, 21, and 36 months of age. Latent Transition Analysis (LTA) identified three ordered subgroups at each age, with one subgroup (18%) displaying high levels of physical force as well as anger. These angry aggressive infants were at elevated risk for behavioral problems in early childhood and diagnoses of conduct disorder (CD) and/or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) at 7 years of age. After other risk factors were taken into account, parents' beliefs in warm parenting and their observed positive affect while interacting with their infants were protective factors. These findings indicate the significance of very early manifestations of angry aggressiveness and have relevance for developmental theories of aggression and prevention strategies.
Children who are adopted from care are more likely to experience enduring emotional and behavioral problems across development; however, adoptees’ trajectories of mental health problems and factors that impact their trajectories are poorly understood. Therefore, we used multilevel growth analyses to chart adoptees’ internalizing and externalizing problems across childhood, and examined the associations between preadoptive risk and postadoptive protective factors on their trajectories. This was investigated in a prospective longitudinal study of case file records (N = 374) and questionnaire-based follow-ups (N = 96) at approximately 5, 21, and 36 months postadoptive placement. Preadoptive adversity (indexed by age at placement, days in care, and number of adverse childhood experiences) was associated with higher internalizing and externalizing scores; the decrease in internalizing scores over childhood was accelerated for those exposed to lower levels of preadoptive risk. Warm adoptive parenting was associated with a marked reduction in children's internalizing and externalizing problems over time. Although potentially limited by shared methods variance and lack of variability in parental warmth scores, these findings demonstrate the deleterious impact of preadoptive risk and the positive role of exceptionally warm adoptive parenting on children's trajectories of mental health problems and have relevance for prevention and intervention strategies.
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