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Mental health issues: The genetic component

It is an established fact that genetics, at least in part, plays a role in the surge in diabetes cases in India. Could a genetic risk factor be playing a role in the increasing numbers of those affected by mental health issues too?

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Depression is becoming an ever more common phenomenon in India, even among the young

A report published on Tuesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry by researchers from Yale University has identified six specific genes that could play a role in the development of anxiety disorders. The study involved 200,000 veteran military personnel and sought to analyse the genetic component of conditions including anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“While there were many studies on the genetic basis of depression earlier, countable have looked for gene variants linked to anxiety, disorders affecting every one in ten Americans,” voiced senior author Murray Stein.

Mental health exacts a considerable burden in India. According to the Indian Medical Council of Research (ICMR), approximately one in seven Indians were affected by mental health issues in 2017 – translating to roughly 197 million people. Suicide, as recently reported by Health Issues India, is a leading cause of death in the country: 2.2 lakh people take their own lives in India every year, a quarter of the total lives lost to suicide worldwide and more than any other nation in southeast Asia.

Knowledge of a genetic basis of mental illness could, at the very least, give a greater insight into at-risk populations and potentially enable targeted interventions. A number of the gene variants found within the study have a link to oestrogen, a gene involved with sexual activity. The link between estrogen and the potential development of anxiety disorders uncovered by the study may explain why females show a higher rate of diagnosis than males. The other newly discovered gene with an influence on anxiety, MAD1L1, has been linked to other mental health disorders as well. However, the specific function of the gene is as of yet unknown.

Understanding may bring benefits. However, the significant treatment gaps regarding mental health disorders in India must be alleviated. Mental healthcare accounts for a mere 0.16 percent of the government budget for health and there is an acute shortage of mental health professionals in the country. There are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 psychologists and 0.07 social workers for every 100,000 Indians. Without addressing this situation, those living with poor mental health will continue to do so in silence.

Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here. 

If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.

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