The stability and change of etiological influences on depression, anxiety symptoms and their co-occurrence across adolescence and young adulthood

Waszczuk, M.A.; Zavos, Helena M. S.; Gregory, Alice M. and Eley, Thalia C.. 2016. The stability and change of etiological influences on depression, anxiety symptoms and their co-occurrence across adolescence and young adulthood. Psychological Medicine, 46(1), pp. 161-175. ISSN 0033-2917 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Background. Depression and anxiety persist within and across diagnostic boundaries. The manner in which common v. disorder-specific genetic and environmental influences operate across development to maintain internalizing disorders and their co-morbidity is unclear. This paper investigates the stability and change of etiological influences on depression, panic, generalized, separation and social anxiety symptoms, and their co-occurrence, across adolescence and young adulthood.

Method. A total of 2619 twins/siblings prospectively reported symptoms of depression and anxiety at mean ages 15, 17 and 20 years.

Results. Each symptom scale showed a similar pattern of moderate continuity across development, largely underpinned by genetic stability. New genetic influences contributing to change in the developmental course of the symptoms emerged at each time point. All symptom scales correlated moderately with one another over time. Genetic influences, both stable and time-specific, overlapped considerably between the scales. Non-shared environmental influences were largely time- and symptom-specific, but some contributed moderately to the stability of depression and anxiety symptom scales. These stable, longitudinal environmental influences were highly correlated between the symptoms.

Conclusions. The results highlight both stable and dynamic etiology of depression and anxiety symptom scales. They provide preliminary evidence that stable as well as newly emerging genes contribute to the co-morbidity between depression and anxiety across adolescence and young adulthood. Conversely, environmental influences are largely time-specific and contribute to change in symptoms over time. The results inform molecular genetics research and transdiagnostic treatment and prevention approaches.

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The G1219 study was supported by a Medical Research Council Training Fellowship (G81/343) and a Career Development Award (G120/635) given to Thalia C. Eley. Waves 1–3 of G1219 were also funded by the W. T. Grant Foundation, the University of London Central Research fund and wave 4 was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-2206), the Institute of Social Psychiatry (06/07–11), and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (RF/2/RFG/2008/0145) awarded to Alice M. Gregory. Monika A. Waszczuk was supported by a PhD studentship funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. This work was also supported by the Leverhulme Foundation (RPG-210 to Thalia C. Eley). This study presents independent research partly funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health. Monika A. Waszczuk had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. We thank the families for their participation as well as numerous staff and students from the Social Genetic Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, London and Goldsmiths, University of London.


Adolescence; anxiety; depression; development; generalized anxiety; genetics; panic; separation anxiety; social anxiety; twins; young adulthood

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27 August 2015Published Online
January 2016Published

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Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2015 08:18

Last Modified:

15 Apr 2021 10:07

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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