RESEARCHERS have identified almost 80 genes that may be linked to depression, it has emerged.
But while the Edinburgh University team says the discovery could herald new treatment hope for the one-in-five UK residents struck by the problem every year – and explain why some are more likely to develop depression than others – the Mental Health Foundation Scotland has urged caution.
The charity’s head Lee Knifton told The National no drug treatment can solve suffering caused by social ills.
The response comes days after the organisation made a plea for dedicated mental health help for cancer patients. Its own research found one in three people with cancer will experience a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorders before, during or after treatment.
Knifton said: “We welcome new research that can help to inform our understanding of biological dimensions that contribute towards the development or perpetuation of depression, particularly where this can lead to creating more effective treatments and support to alleviate suffering.
“However it is important that we give equal significance and resources to funding and addressing the psychological and social causes of depression, which are often rooted in inequalities, trauma and stigma.
“There’s no escaping from the fact that in Scotland, people in the most deprived areas are four times more likely to report two symptoms of depression than those in the least deprived areas.
“Our immediate environment, such as financial circumstances, family, relationships, housing and welfare will have the biggest impact on our mental health.”
Scientists led by Edinburgh University scanned the genetic code of 300,000 people to identify areas of DNA that may be linked to depression. The work was part of a £4.7 million project aimed at improving our understanding of the common mental health problem, with the full results published in the specialist journal Nature Communications.
Some of the genes pinpointed by the team are known to be involved in the function of synapses, which allow communication between brain cells.
Lead author Dr David Howard, research fellow at the centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, said: “This study identifies genes that potentially increase our risk of depression, adding to the evidence that it is partly a genetic disorder. The findings also provide new clues to the causes of depression and we hope it will narrow down the search for therapies that could help people living with the condition.”
His colleague Professor Andrew McIntosh commented: “Depression is a common and often severe condition that affects millions of people worldwide. These new findings help us better understand the causes of depression and show how the UK Biobank study and big data research has helped advance mental health research.
“We hope that the UK’s growing health data research capacity will help us to make major advances in our understanding of depression.”