It’s always a good idea to reach out to support those who are under stress. There is a possibility.
This study uses data from two very different groups of people under stress to show the importance of social support in reducing the risk of developing symptoms of depression in general. A new doctor in the most rigorous years of training and an elderly person whose spouse recently died.
However, the greatest effect was seen in those with the most genetic mutations that increase the risk of depression.
This paper uses a measure of genetic risk called the polygenic risk score. It is based on decades of research into which small mutations in specific genes are associated with depression risk.
Compared with study subjects with low polygenic risk scores for depression, physicians and widows with high risk scores had higher rates of depression after losing social support, but had higher rates of depression after losing social support, but had less social support during stressful times. Depression rates were also low when receiving support.
Research published in American Journal of Psychiatry The University of Michigan team suggests that more could be done to direct social support to those who can most benefit.
Genes, stress and social connections
“Our data show that there was great variability in the level of social support received by individuals during these stressful times, and how that changed over time,” said the first author. said Jennifer Cleary of Her Sen, MD, Ph.D. from UM Medical School. “We hope that these findings, incorporating genetic risk scores and measures of social support and depressive symptoms, will shed light on the interaction of genes and the environment, particularly the importance of social ties in depression risk. “
Sen, director of the Eisenberg Center for Family Depression and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, said that even if genetic research reveals more DNA mutations linked to vulnerability to depression, those mutations may be associated with depression. He adds that it is very important to know how it leads to disease.
Further understanding of the different genetic profiles associated with susceptibility to loss of social support, sleep deprivation, excessive work stress, and other risk factors will help develop personalized guidance for depression prevention. In the meantime, these findings reaffirm how important social connections, social support, and an individual’s sensitivity to the social environment are as factors in well-being and depression prevention. ”
Srijan Sen, MD, Ph.D., UM Medical School
Different Populations, Similar Patterns
The new study used data from two long-term studies that capture genetic, mood, environmental, and other data from participating populations of individuals.
One is the Intern Health Study, which enrolls first-year residents (also called interns) in the United States and abroad, and is led by Sen.
The second is a study on health and retirement, based at the UM Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Aging.
Data in the new paper came from 1,011 interns trained in hospitals across the country, nearly half of whom were women, and 435 for whom data were available from surveys conducted before and after the death of a spouse. of recently widowed individuals, 71% of whom were female. .
As Sen and his team have shown in a previous study, interns experienced dramatic depressive symptoms during a stressful year of training involving long, irregular work hours in an environment far from friends and family. increased significantly (126%).
Among widows and widowers, depressive symptoms increased 34% over pre-widow scores. This correlates with past research showing that the loss of a spouse is one of life’s greatest stressors, Cleary said.
The researchers then considered the depression symptom findings along with each person’s polygenic risk score for depression and individual responses to questions about connections with friends, family, and other social supporters. Did.
Most interns lost social support from their pre-internship days. This aligns well with the common experience of leaving medical school and going into a new environment that no one may know.
Interns with the highest polygenic risk scores and who also lost social support had the highest measures of depressive symptoms during the second half of the stressful intern year.
However, those who were equally at high genetic risk and had social support had far fewer depressive symptoms. The researchers call this the “crossover effect.”
Unlike interns, some widows reported increased social support because friends and family may have reached out and offered help or listened after the loss of a spouse. Reported.
But they also had a crossover effect. Widows with a higher genetic risk of depression and who had social support experienced a much smaller increase in depressive symptoms than widows with a similar genetic risk who lost social support after losing a spouse. .
Some widows lost social support or experienced no change in support and their depressive symptoms did not change. It will be important to examine the history of this group in the light of any care they may have provided, he said.
The team also hopes other researchers will study this same interplay of genetic risk, stress, and social support in other populations.
In the meantime, Cleary and Sen have a message for anyone going through a stressful time, or seeing a friend or relative going through a stressful time, please reach out, It is about maintaining or strengthening social ties.
Doing so, they point out, can benefit both those who are stressed and those who reach out to them.
Reducing the level of ongoing stress a person faces is important, whether at work, at school, after a personal loss, or in a family situation.
Also, although this study did not examine the role of professional mental health support, individual and group therapy are important options for people with depression and other mental health problems.
Note: The polygenic risk score used in this study has been validated for use primarily in people of European ancestry, which limits the ability to generalize the findings to people with other backgrounds. Sen uses data from the Intern Health Survey and the Health and Retirement Survey to develop polygenic risk scores based on depression-related genetic traits in other populations, including people of East Asian and African descent. It points out that work is being done.
In addition to Cleary and Sen, the authors of this study are Yu Fang (MSE), Laura B. Zahodne (Ph.D.), Amy SB Bohnert (Ph.D.), and Margit Burmeister (Ph.D.), all of UM. .) am. Zahodne, Bohnert, and Burmeister are members of the Eisenberg Family Depression Center. Sen and Burmeister are members of the Michigan Neuroscience Institute. Sen and Bohnert are members of the UM Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
This study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH101459) and the National Institute of Child Health and Development (HD007109).
Cleary, JL, and others. (2023) Polygenic risk and social support in predicting depression under stress. American Journal of Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.21111100.