Research Involvement Opportunity – the Developmental Pathways to Anxiety

Title: Developmental pathways to anxiety

Summary: The proportion of young people experiencing anxiety is high, and this number appears to be rising. The most common life stage to first experience the onset of anxiety is during adolescence. For example, more than 20% of girls aged 17-19 would meet criteria for a disorder like anxiety. But to understand this, it is likely that we will need to look much earlier in someone’s life. We have known for a long time that adverse experiences in early life can be a contributing factor to the later onset of anxiety. More recently, we have also discovered that genetics is important too. Enormous studies, often with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of participants have allowed us to identify common genes that contribute miniscule amounts of risk for conditions like anxiety. We can sum these tiny amounts of risk to create a ‘polygenic risk score’ (PRS). For example, someone with a unit increase in their PRS is 15% more likely to get a diagnosis of something like Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

But what are these scores predicting? One possibility is that they reflect the development of cognitive skills involved in how we regulate our emotions. Another possibility is that they are involved in our immune processes. A third possibility is that, counterintuitively, they reflect our early environment, which is often created by those who gave us our genes – our parents. These are all plausible pathways, because they have all previously been linked to anxiety. In the next few weeks, the Wellcome Trust will announce a call entitled “Pathways too and through anxiety”. We would like to use this as an opportunity to get to the bottom of what these genetic scores really mean and whether they are useful.

Researcher: Dr Duncan, Professor of Neuroinformatics, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge

Involvement: In order to understand how we do this, or indeed whether this is worth doing, we would really like to hear from 6 people who have experienced anxiety, or who have children of their own. We would be interested in hearing from people with diverse experiences for example different cultures, religions, or ethnic backgrounds, people from the LGBTQ community. This opportunity will fit someone who is comfortable to share their lived experience and may have taken part at the “Conversations with Experts by Experience” teaching programme.

In preparation of a funding application we would like to have an initial face to face meeting to discuss individual experiences of anxiety and issues that are relevant to people with lived experience and that we need to include in our project. Questions that really need lived experience are: Does anxiety manifest itself differently at different ages? Has it felt different at different stages of life? When was the earliest you become aware of it? If we knew more about genetic predictors of conditions like anxiety, would it change the way you feel about it? What is the relationship between being a parent and your own mental health?

Zoom meetings will also be set up to discuss the proposal and in particular the project’s aims, objectives and design and the way people could be actively involved throughout if the application is successful.

Time commitment: A 2hrs face-to-face meeting will take place at Douglas House end of July/beginning of August. Further virtual meetings will be set up to discuss the application. People will also be asked to review the application and provide their feedback in writing.

Payment: Members will receive £15 per hour for their time and contribution. Please note, this income may have implications for those claiming benefits. All income must be declared to the Inland Revenue.

Please let contact Iliana Rokkou at if you are interested in this opportunity.

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