23andMe New Study on Depression and Bipolar Disorder

A 23andMe study published in April of 2022 provides insight into the cause and overlapping genetics of two mental health disorders – depression and bipolar disorder. The National institutes of Health estimates that more than 16 million Americans are affected by depression each year, while nearly 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder.

Genetics and environmental factors – childhood trauma and poverty, for instance – influence the development of both depression and bipolar disorder. Understanding the interplay between those two factors may help researchers develop more targeted treatments.

The study, known as the Affective disorders, Environment, and Cognitive Trait (AFFECT) study looked at data from about 50,000 23andMe customers who consented to participate in research over more than nine months. 

The study was conducted in collaboration with Lundbeck, a company dedicated to restoring brain health. The research provides a highly valuable real-world dataset deepening our understanding of two of the most highly impactful mood disorders. Of those participating, 15,000 reported a diagnosis of major depression, almost 10,000 reported that they had bipolar disorder. The remaining individuals reported having neither condition.

The study collected self-reported data and include background health and demographic information, and along with genetic data, it incorporated information from a series of online surveys, behavioral assessments, and cognitive tests.

“The AFFECT study represents a unique resource for dissecting the structure of mood disorders across multiple levels of analysis,” the researchers said. “In addition, the fully remote nature of the study provides valuable insights for future virtual and decentralized clinical trials within mood disorders.”

Mayo Clinic describes bipolar disorder as a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). 

Mayo Clinic describes depression as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It is also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression. People with depression may have trouble doing day-to-day activities, and may sometimes feel as if life isn’t worth living.

23andMe points out that those two conditions are different, but share many of the same symptoms. The similarities reinforce the notion that the conditions may fall across a spectrum. Overlapping symptoms included depression, mania, anxiety, and indistinct physical aches and pains. While both those with major depression and bipolar disorder reported sleep problems or substance abuse issues, those two issues were more common among those with bipolar disorder. 

The study is another in a series of studies that 23andMe has either directed or contributed data to advance our understanding of depression and bipolar disorder. The most recent of which was a study last year by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs that included data from more than 1.2 million individuals. 

Related Articles on FamilyTree.com:

Study Offers Insights On Genetics of Depression

Schizophrenia Can Run in Families

Genetics and PTSD

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