An international study led by researchers from IDIBAPS and CIBERSAM, the University of Linköping (Sweden) and King's College London shows and quantifies the fact that a reduction in childhood adversities could reduce the incidence of mental disorders in adulthood.
The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, was coordinated by Joaquim Raduà, head of the IDIBAPS Imaging of mood- and anxiety-related disorders (IMARD) research group and CIBERSAM researcher, Elena Dragioti from the University of Linköping, and Paolo Fusar-Pol, from King's College London. Celso Arango, from Gregorio Marañón General University Hospital and CIBERSAM, also participated.
Mental disorders are multifactorial. In other words, they depend on the combination of multiple factors: genetic, biological, psychological or environmental. Apart from the non-modifiable causes in people who have a disorder, several studies have identified numerous modifiable risk factors involved in their appearance, such as those associated with lifestyle or society. However, the number of disorders that could be prevented by modifying these risk factors is not known.
“In many respects, we live in a welfare society. However, despite this apparent prosperity, around one in five people currently has a mental disorder”, explains Joaquim Raduà. “The question is whether there would be fewer mental disorders if we were to improve our society and lifestyle”, he adds.
This is the question that the study published in Molecular Psychiatry aims to answer. The authors of the study looked for environmental risk factors with the highest level of prospective evidence to calculate the population attributable fraction, which measures the percentage of cases of a disorder that can be attributed to a specific risk factor.
The results are clear. Reducing childhood adversities could avoid one in three cases of schizophrenia, and reducing childhood abuse could avoid one in six cases of depression. A reduction in work-related stress could avoid one in five cases of depression. And, regarding lifestyle, physical exercise could avoid one in six cases of Alzheimer's disease; decreasing metabolic risk factors such as excess fat in the blood could avoid one in ten cases of depression. Moreover, avoiding maternal overweight before or during pregnancy could avoid one in 15 cases of autism in children.
Therefore, by reducing childhood adversities and abuse, reducing work-related stress and improving physical exercise, diet and weight, a significant proportion of mental disorders could be avoided. “This means that we could avoid millions of people developing mental disorders. But it also means that many disorders, probably most of them, would remain. That's why it is so important to devote more resources to research into mental health to create treatments that improve the quality of life of people with one of these disorders”, conclude the authors.
Dragioti E*, Radua J*, Solmi M, Arango C, Oliver D, Cortese S, Jones PB, Il Shin J, Correll CU, Fusar-Poli P. Mol Psychiatry. 2022 Apr 28. doi: 10.1038/s41380-022-01586-8