Can Biomarkers Shed Light on Early-life Mental Health and Later-life Premature Death?

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Research is clear that many adult mental health issues start in adolescence. What if we had a more precise picture using biomarkers that might help understand contributors of early death or morbidity associated with early-life mental health issues? How might we adapt our population health approaches to better support youth mental health?

A new paper in JAMA Psychiatry by George Ploubidis from University College London examines the association of early-life mental health, biomarkers, and mid-life health status as they relate to premature death. The study followed a birth cohort of 17,415 participants from the British National Child Development Study, starting in 1958 and multiple follow-up data collection points over the years until they were aged 44-45. The biomarkers include fibrinogen, c-reaction protein, glycated hemoglobin, high and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist-to-hip ratio. The authors track mortality data up to age 58.

Additionally, the authors also examined available mental health data for these timeframes. Metrics include a longitudinal view into early life conduct problems and affective symptoms, which were also categorized over the early life-span as “low stable, teacher identified adolescent-onset, moderate and stable high.” 

The authors report that biomarkers were associated with morbidity and premature death, especially in women. Specifically, heightened conduct problems from age 7 to 16 years of age were associated with higher fibrinogen levels (associated with blot clot risk) and C-reactive protein. Patterns were also showed an increased risk for obesity. These heightened levels were also related to the risk for premature death. 

It bears saying that association does not mean causation. What value does this study add to our body of knowledge? More health systems are leveraging population health methodologies, but these programs and analytics are often focused on adults. What if we could look upstream more towards prevention and act sooner on these early warning signals. How might we better support young people as they navigate their young lives?

Having more robust support may prevent later life morbidity and premature death. The reality is we see more and more data pointing to increasing rates of mental health issues in youth people. This study suggests we may want to pay a lot more attention to youth mental health needs.

Thanks for reading – Trina 

(Opinions are my own)


Ploubidis GB, Batty GD, Patalay P, Bann D, Goodman A. Association of Early-Life Mental Health With Biomarkers in Midlife and Premature Mortality: Evidence From the 1958 British Birth Cohort. JAMA Psychiatry.2021;78(1):38–46. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.2893

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