Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from mental health problems. Half of all mental disorders start by the age of 14 years and if support is not provided at the right time, mental health problems may get more serious and can have negative effects on the future and quality of life of young people.  

Therefore, it is important to detect and treat mental health problems as early as possible and strengthen research efforts, which can help to provide evidence for identifying mental health problems in children at risk.

Thanks to studies that have followed people from childhood into adulthood it is possible to investigate factors that may influence the onset of mental health problems. However, it is not always clear what causes mental health problems and why some children develop these problems and others do not.  

Despite research involving families and twins demonstrating that mental health disorders are highly heritable and tend to run in families, genetic influence on mental health problems was denied for a long time. The main emphasis was on environmental factors, such as parenting behaviour, peer influence, and other social factors.

During the last decade, even more, genetic studies have confirmed the important role of genetics in relation to mental health problems and have also provided insights for developing new treatments.  

For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common developmental disorder in children. If left untreated it may cause difficulties at school, occupational failure later in life and affect social relationships.

Years ago, a child with ADHD was seen as a result of bad parenting; however, genetic studies have made a major contribution to the understanding of the biological pathways that are related to the condition. This knowledge has been used in developing appropriate behavioural interventions as well as medication that can help to reduce ADHD symptoms in children and help them to perform better at school and in their daily lives. 

Currently, research in genetics is progressing fast and several studies have provided evidence that genetics can detect people at risk of getting mental health disorders at an early age. These findings can have a strong public impact in reducing the burden of mental health problems on our societies.

 

 

Get in Touch!

     

Contacts:
Prof. Christel Middeldorp, project coordinator

VU University Amsterdam
Dept. of Biological Psychology
email : c.m.middeldorp(at)vu.nl

Natascha Stroo, project manager
VU University Amsterdam
Dept. of Biological Psychology
email : natascha.stroo(at)vu.nl

Matteo Mauri, web & dissemination manager
University of Cagliari
email : matteo.mauri(at)diee.unica.it

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