Higher genetic risk for Depression, Social support especially important

Stress & mental healthMental Health | Individuals with a high genomic risk for depression, especially during stressful life periods, significantly benefit from supportive social connections...

...according to study findings published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

A University of Michigan Medical School research team examined the importance of social support during stressful times through 2 groups of people: first-year medical residents in the Intern Health Study (IHS), and older adults who had been recently widowed and part of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

“Our data show wide variability in the level of social support individuals received during these stressful times, and how it changed over time,” said first author Jennifer L. Cleary, MS, a University of Michigan psychology doctoral student studying under senior author Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, University of Michigan Medical School.

“We hope these findings, which incorporate genetic risk scores as well as measures of social support and depressive symptoms, illuminate the gene-environment interactions and specifically the importance of social connection in depression risk.”

The study included 1011 interns and 435 recent widows. The researchers utilized data from IHS and HRS alongside their own questionnaires that were administered before and after the life stressors experienced. They also calculated polygenic risk scores (PRSs) for major depressive disorder in both study populations.

After the start of internship in the IHS population, depressive symptoms scores increased by 126%. For the widowers in the HRS population, depressive symptom scores increased by 34% after a partner died.

Mental Health MattersThe authors found an interaction between depression PRS and change in social support in the prediction of depressive symptoms in both the IHS population (incident rate ratio [IRR]=0.96, 95% CI=0.93, 0.98) and the HRS population (IRR=0.78, 95% CI=0.66, 0.92) with higher depression PRS associated with greater sensitivity to changes in social support. Johnson-Neyman intervals signaled a crossover effect, with losses and gains in social support moderating the effect of PRS on depression symptoms (HIS sample, -0.02, 0.71; HRS sample, -0.49, 1.92).

“Further understanding the different genetic profiles associated with sensitivity to loss of social support, insufficient sleep, excessive work stress and other risk factors could help us develop personalized guidance for depression prevention,” said Dr Sen. “In the meantime, these findings reaffirm how important social connections, social support, and individual sensitivity to the social environment are as factors in wellbeing and preventing depression.”


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