Epigenetics: How genes and the environment shape children’s mental health

by Charlotte Cecil

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability around the world, affecting one in three people every year in Europe alone – at an estimated cost of over €460 billion. It is hugely disruptive to the lives of individuals, their families and to wider communities.

If we are to successfully rise to the challenge of understanding how mental health disorders develop – and therefore how best they may be prevented – we must wind back the clock to children’s early development. More than half of all diagnosable mental health problems start before the age of 14, and often manifest earlier in childhood as emotional and behavioural problems, such as anxiety, depression, aggression or hyperactivity.

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Early life experiences and the adult mind

Marlene Lorgen-Ritchie 150Marlene Lorgen-Ritchie is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Rowett InstituteHer research involves investigating the biological pathways linking the social environment during development, with mood and personality in later life.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blog series, she writes about one aspect of biosocial research – epigenetics – which she’ll be exploring more at a Festival of Social Science event next week.

Our early life experiences in the womb and throughout childhood have been shown to influence how we turn out as adults. This includes how healthy we are, how rich we become and what and how we think. However we still don’t know how it all comes about biologically. That’s where epigenetics comes in. Continue reading