Social, Emotional Problems Linked to Higher Levels of Genetic Vulnerability for Adult Depression

Emotional, social, and psychiatric problems in children and adolescents have been linked to higher levels of genetic vulnerability for adult depression.

Emotional, social, and psychiatric problems in children and adolescents have been linked to higher levels of genetic vulnerability for adult depression, according to a recent study.

University of Queensland scientists made the finding while analyzing the genetic data of more than 42,000 children and adolescents from 7 cohorts across Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Researchers have also found a link with a higher genetic vulnerability for insomnia, neuroticism, and body mass index.

“By contrast, study participants with higher genetic scores for educational attainment and emotional wellbeing were found to have reduced childhood problems. We calculated a person’s level of genetic vulnerability by adding up the number of risk genes they had for a specific disorder or trait, and then made adjustments based on the level of importance of each gene. We found the relationship was mostly similar across ages,” said Christel Middeldorp, MD, PhD, professor at University of Queensland, in a press release.

The results indicate there are shared genetic factors that affect a range of psychiatric and related traits across a person’s lifespan, according to the study authors.

Approximately 50% of children and adolescents with psychiatric problems, such as attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD), continue to experience mental disorders as adults, and are at risk of disengaging with their school community among other social and emotional problems, according to the study press release

“Our findings are important as they suggest their continuity between childhood and adult traits is partly explained by genetic risk,” Middeldorp said in the release. “Individuals at risk of being affected should be focus of attention and targeted treatment. Although genetic vulnerability is not accurate enough at this stage to make individual predictions about how a person’s symptoms will develop over time, it may become so in the future, in combination with other risk factors.”

The research may support precision medicine by providing targeted treatments to children at the highest risk of persistent emotional and social problems, the authors concluded.


  • Genetics linked to childhood emotional, social and psychiatric problems [press release]. The University of Queensland. Published April 16, 2020. Accessed April 22, 2020.

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