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The multifactorial nature of psychopathology, whereby both genetic and environmental factors contribute risk, has long been established. In this paper, we provide an update on genetically informative designs that are utilized to disentangle genetic and environmental contributions to psychopathology. We provide a brief reminder of quantitative behavioral genetic research designs that have been used to identify potentially causal environmental processes, accounting for genetic contributions. We also provide an overview of recent molecular genetic approaches that utilize genome-wide association study data which are increasingly being applied to questions relevant to psychopathology research. While genetically informative designs typically have been applied to investigate the origins of psychopathology, we highlight how these approaches can also be used to elucidate potential causal environmental processes that contribute to developmental course and outcomes. We highlight the need to use genetically sensitive designs that align with intervention and prevention science efforts, by considering strengths-based environments to investigate how positive environments can mitigate risk and promote children’s strengths.
Studies involving clinically recruited samples show that genetic liability to schizophrenia overlaps with that for several psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder, major depression and, in a population study, anxiety disorder and negative symptoms in adolescence.
We examined whether, at a population level, association between schizophrenia liability and anxiety disorders continues into adulthood, for specific anxiety disorders and as a group. We explored in an epidemiologically based cohort the nature of adult psychopathology sharing liability to schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia polygenic risk scores (PRSs) were calculated for 590 European-descent individuals from the Christchurch Health and Development Study. Logistic regression was used to examine associations between schizophrenia PRS and four anxiety disorders (social phobia, specific phobia, panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder), schizophrenia/schizophreniform disorder, manic/hypomanic episode, alcohol dependence, major depression, and – using linear regression – total number of anxiety disorders. A novel population-level association with hypomania was tested in a UK birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children).
Schizophrenia PRS was associated with total number of anxiety disorders and with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. We show a novel population-level association between schizophrenia PRS and manic/hypomanic episode.
The relationship between schizophrenia liability and anxiety disorders is not restricted to psychopathology in adolescence but is present in adulthood and specifically linked to generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. We suggest that the association between schizophrenia liability and hypomanic/manic episodes found in clinical samples may not be due to bias.
Stress has been shown to have a causal effect on risk for depression. We investigated the role of cognitive ability as a moderator of the effect of stressful life events on depressive symptoms and whether this varied by gender. Data were analyzed in two adolescent data sets: one representative community sample aged 11–12 years (n = 460) and one at increased familial risk of depression aged 9–17 years (n = 335). In both data sets, a three-way interaction was found whereby for girls, but not boys, higher cognitive ability buffered the association between stress and greater depressive symptoms. The interaction was replicated when the outcome was a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. This buffering effect in girls was not attributable to coping efficacy. However, a small proportion of the variance was accounted for by sensitivity to environmental stressors. Results suggest that this moderating effect of cognitive ability in girls is largely attributable to greater available resources for cognitive operations that offer protection against stress-induced reductions in cognitive processing and cognitive control which in turn reduces the likelihood of depressive symptomatology.
To determine rates of parent-reported child awareness of parental depression, examine characteristics of parents, children and families according to child awareness, and explore whether child awareness is associated with child psychopathology. Data were available from 271 families participating in the Early Prediction of Adolescent Depression (EPAD) study, a longitudinal study of offspring of parents with recurrent depression.
Seventy-three per cent of participating children were perceived as being aware of their parent's depression. Older children, and children of parents who experienced more severe depression, were more likely to be aware. Awareness was not associated with child psychopathology.
Considering children in the context of parental depression is important. Child awareness may influence their access to early intervention and prevention programmes. Further research is needed to understand the impact of awareness on the child.
Offspring of mothers with depression are at heightened risk of psychiatric disorder. Many mothers with depression have comorbid psychopathology. How these co-occurring problems affect child outcomes has rarely been considered.
To consider whether the overall burden of co-occurring psychopathology in mothers with recurrent depression predicts new-onset psychopathology in offspring.
Mothers with recurrent depression and their adolescent offspring (9–17 years at baseline) were assessed in 2007 and on two further occasions up to 2011. Mothers completed questionnaires assessing depression severity, anxiety, alcohol problems and antisocial behaviour. Psychiatric disorder in offspring was assessed using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment.
The number of co-occurring problems in mothers (0, 1 or 2+) predicted new-onset offspring disorder (odds ratio (OR) = 1.80, 95% CI 1.17–2.77, P = 0.007). Rates varied from 15.7 to 34.8% depending on the number of co-occurring clinical problems. This remained significant after controlling for maternal depression severity (OR = 1.73, 95% CI 1.03–2.89, P = 0.040).
The burden of co-occurring psychopathology among mothers with recurrent depression indexes increased risk of future onset of psychiatric disorder for offspring. This knowledge can be used in targeting preventive measures in children at high risk of psychiatric disorder.
AF: Thank you so much for coming to our final panel, “Inspired by Woolf”…. I'm just going to briefly introduce our host Katherine Lanpher, so you know why it is that she's here. … I first met Katherine on a night that left many traces on this conference: a benefit for Girls Write Now, which began with a brief, brief paired reading at Bluestockings, and moved on to readings for grown-ups, cocktails, and burlesque dancing at The Slipper Room. (I can assure you I failed to incorporate burlesque dancing in this Conference.) But you can hear Katherine online at Time magazine, where she hosts the Time Financial Tool-Kit Podcast, and also at Barnes and Noble.com, that's bn.com, as you know, where she hosts Upstairs At the Square—a fantastic live show with authors and musicians taped at the flagship Barnes & Noble in Union Square. She is a substitute host for The Takeaway, a new National Public Radio show that is a collaboration of WNYC, the BBC, and the New York Times. And she is a contributing editor for More magazine. If you open up this month's issue, you'll see her travel piece on tracking jaguars in Belize, and she tells me that in her suitcase with her was a Rebecca Solnit book, so it's all coming together. She's also the author of a wonderful memoir, about her move from St. Paul to New York, called Leap Days. I'm very proud also to call her my friend, and delighted to introduce you to her as your host tonight. Thank you.
KL: You're very kind. I am so conscious that I am all that's standing between you and cocktails, but I also know that we have an incredible panel, and I have been looking forward to this very much. Rebecca Solnit, at the keynote yesterday, talked about the fact that there are many, many, many “Woolfs,” and that hers, in particular, had been a Virgil … Well, we have three different incarnations, if you will, of Virginia Woolf up here today. We have Susan Sellers, a scholar and novelist. We have Kris Lundberg, an actress who has founded a theatre company.
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