Although the five major mental illnesses: autism, attention deficit-hyper activity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression disorder, are considered distinct problems, a new study shows that they all share some gene-based risks.
As a result, “these findings have implications for learning how to diagnose mental illnesses with the same precision that physical illnesses are diagnosed,” stated Dr. Bruce Cuthbert of the National Institute on Mental Health, which funded the research.
“Learning the genetic underpinnings of mental illness is part of one day knowing whether a person’s symptoms really are schizophrenia and not something a bit different. If we really want to diagnose and treat people effectively, we have to get to these more fine-grained understandings of what is actually going wrong biologically,” he added.
According to Dr. Jordan Smoller of Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the lead researchers for the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (a collaboration of scientists in 19 countries), he and his colleagues analyzed genomes of more than 61,000 people worldwide. Some of them had one of the five mental disorders, other had none. What the researchers found was four regions of the genetic code where variation was linked to all five disorders.
While he admits that this study offers no immediate benefit to patients and their families, Smoller hopes the information will offer clues in the quest for psychiatric treatment for the various disorders, which are now believed to be caused by a “complex mix of numerous genes and other risk factors that range from exposures in the womb to experiences in everyday life.”