Linkage study finds high rates of learning disability in children of mothers with mental health problems


Recent genetic studies have shown there may be shared genetics in some neuropsychiatric disorders. The researchers in this Australian study were interested to look at risks of learning disability and other neuropsychiatric outcomes in 3174 children born to mothers with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or unipolar major depression.

They compared this risk with a control group of 3129 children of mothers unaffected by any mental health issues. To explore this issue, they designed a record linkage study, using population registers in Western Australian.

They found that children were at significantly increased risk of learning disability with odds ratios of 3.2 for mothers with schizophrenia, 3.1 for those with bipolar disorder and 2.9 for those with unipolar depression. They used multivariate analysis to look at the contribution to the risk made by the familial and obstetric factors and found that these may contribute independently to the risk.

In terms of obstetric factors, labour/delivery complications did not reach significance, but neonatal encephalopathy and foetal distress were found to be independent significant predictors.

They also found that rates of rare syndromes well above what would be suspected in the  children of mothers with mental disorders. They also found that for the children of mothers with bipolar disorder, the risk of pervasive developmental disorders, including autism, was significantly raised. For the children of mothers unipolar depression, the risk of epilepsy was doubled compared with those in the control group.

The authors conclude that the findings from this study suggest support for the notion of clustering of neuropsychiatric disorders.  They call for larger epidemiological studies to explore these links further.

Intellectual disability and other neuropsychiatric outcomes in high-risk children of mothers with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and unipolar major depression, Morgan V et al., in British Journal of Psychiatry, 200,4, 282-289

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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