Eliminating childhood adversities such as bullying would prevent one in three cases of schizophrenia and promoting physical exercise would prevent one in six cases of Alzheimer’s
An international study led by researchers from IDIBAPS and the CIBER Mental Health area (CIBERSAM), Linköping University (Sweden) and King’s College London demonstrates and quantifies 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 Imaging of Mood and Anxiety Related Disorders (IMARD) group at IDIBAPS and researcher at CIBERSAM, Elena Dragioti from Linköping University, and Paolo Fusar-Pol of King’s College London. Celso Arango, from the Gregorio Marañón Hospital and CIBERSAM, has also participated.
Mental disorders are multifactorial, that is, they depend on the combination of multiple factors: genetic, biological, psychological or environmental. Apart from non-modifiable causes in people who have a disorder, several studies have identified numerous modifiable risk factors involved in its appearance, such as those associated with lifestyle or society. But it is not known how many disorders could be prevented by modifying these risk factors.
“In many respects, we live in a welfare society. But despite this apparent prosperity, around one in five people currently has a mental disorder”, explains Joaquim Raduà. “The question is whether there would be less mental disorders, if we improve society and lifestyle,” he adds.
This is the question that the study published in Molecular Psychiatry wants to answer. The study authors looked for environmental risk factors with the highest level of prospective evidence to calculate the population attributable fraction, which measures what percentage of cases of a disorder can be attributed to a particular risk factor.
The results are clear. Reducing childhood adversity could prevent one in three cases of schizophrenia and reducing child abuse could prevent one in six cases of depression. A reduction in work stress would make it possible to avoid one in five cases of depression. And regarding lifestyle, doing more physical exercise could prevent one in six cases of Alzheimer’s; reducing metabolic risk factors, such as excess fat in the blood, could prevent one in ten cases of depression; and avoiding being overweight before or during pregnancy could prevent one in fifteen cases of autism in children.
Therefore, reducing childhood adversity and abuse, reducing work stress, and improving physical exercise, diet and weight, a very important part of mental disorders could be avoided. “That means we could prevent millions of people from developing mental disorders. But it also means that many disorders, probably most, would still be there. That is why it is so important to dedicate more resources to mental health research to create treatments that more effectively improve the quality of life of people with one of these disorders”, the authors conclude.