What is it about?

We generally think that genes which increase our risk for depression and anxiety disorders are the same as those which everyday depression and anxiety symptoms, but those with clinical diagnoses are just at higher level of risk. Using both twin/family data and published genetic studies we show that hypothesis this is generally true. However, there was also evidence they did not perfectly overlap. Our findings suggest that genetic influences on mood and anxiety disorders are not identical to those on everyday experiences of depression and anxiety.

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Why is it important?

Because there are so many genes that cause depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders, most of which have very small individual effects, researchers need data from hundreds of thousands of individuals. Case-control studies are harder to recruit, so researchers have recently began including questionnaire measures such as self-reported loneliness, well-being, and neurotic personality into these studies. This rests on the assumption that the genetic influences on these self-reported traits are the same as those on depression and anxiety diagnoses. Our results suggest that this strategy will work for most genetic effects that indeed appear to be shared across these different types of measures. However, there is evidence for some unique genetic influences on depression/anxiety disorders that may be more difficult to find if studies mix in too much non-clinical data.


From a scientific perspective, a unique thing about this study is it contains two separate genetic investigations: one using the a dataset of twins and siblings and another based on published results from genome-wide association studies (which use measured DNA from saliva samples in extremely large databases like 23andMe and the UK Biobank). Importantly, both studies came up with a very similar correlation between depression/anxiety disorders and everyday depression and anxiety symptoms. Both methods have pros and cons, so it was great to see they converged on the same answer! From a mental health perspective, it's important to remind people that just because there is a considerable genetic component to both everyday depression/anxiety and clinical mood and anxiety disorders, that does not mean anyone is guaranteed to struggle with these problems. People at high genetic risk can benefit from a range of interventions which mitigate the impact of their individual genetic risk factors on their life and experiences (including therapy, but also a range of treatments more or less involved!).

Daniel Gustavson
University of Colorado Boulder

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Evidence for strong genetic correlations among internalizing psychopathology and related self-reported measures using both genomic and twin/adoptive approaches., Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science, May 2024, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/abn0000905.
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