Immune System Plays An Important Role in Development Of Mental Disorders

There is a close relationship between body and brain. If the body stays healthy, mental health is also maintained and visa versa. A new study shows that the infections children contract during their childhood are linked to an increase in the risk of mental disorders during childhood and adolescence.

This knowledge expands our understanding of the significance of the immune system in the development of mental disorders.

According to the iPSYCH study, having a fever, a sore throat, or an infection as a youngster increases the likelihood that the child or adolescent may also develop a mental disease.

This is demonstrated by the first study of its sort to track all Danes born between January 1, 1995, and June 30, 2012. The risk of childhood and teenage psychiatric illnesses because of all infections that have been treated since birth has been examined by researchers.

Children with infections at higher risk of mental disorders

“Hospital admissions with infections are particularly associated with an increased risk of mental disorders, but so too are less severe infections that are treated with medicine from the patient’s own general practitioner,” says Ole Köhler-Forsberg from Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital’s Psychoses Research Unit. He is one of the researchers behind the study.

The study found that children who had been admitted to the hospital with an infection had an 84% higher risk of developing a mental problem and a 42% higher risk of receiving a prescription for medication to treat mental disorders. Additionally, there was an increased risk for a variety of mental illnesses, such as psychotic disorders, OCD, tics, personality disorders, autism, and ADHD.

Close connection between body and brain

“This knowledge increases our understanding of the fact that there is a close connection between body and brain and that the immune system can play a role in the development of mental disorders. Once again research indicates that physical and mental health are closely connected,” says Ole Köhler-Forsberg.

Highest risk following an infection

The study has just been published in JAMA Psychiatry and is a part of the Danish iPSYCH psychiatry project.

“We also found that the risk of mental disorders is highest right after the infection, which supports the infection to some extent playing a role in the development of the mental disorder,” says Ole Köhler-Forsberg.

Therefore, infections and the inflammatory response that follows them can have an impact on the brain and contribute to the emergence of severe mental problems. This can, however, also be explained by other factors, such as the genetic predisposition of some individuals to greater infections and mental illnesses.

Connections between infection and mental diagnoses notable

The newly discovered information could be crucial for future research on the immune system and the role of infections in the emergence of a variety of childhood and teenage mental problems, for which the researchers have shown a link. This is the conclusion reached by Research Director Michael Eriksen Benrós, a top researcher on the project from the Psychiatric Centre Copenhagen at the Copenhagen University Hospital.

“The temporal correlations between the infection and the mental diagnoses were particularly notable, as we observed that the risk of a newly occurring mental disorder was increased by 5.66 times in the first three months after contact with a hospital due to an infection and were also increased more than twofold within the first year,” he explains.

Eriksen, Michael Benrós emphasises that the study may, over time, result in more attention being paid to the immune system and the role that infections play in childhood and teenage mental problems.

“It can have a consequence for treatment and the new knowledge can be used in making the diagnosis when new psychiatric symptoms occur in a young person. But first and foremost it corroborates our increasing understanding of how closely the body and brain are connected,” he says.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Aarhus University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Ole Köhler-Forsberg, Liselotte Petersen, Christiane Gasse, Preben B. Mortensen, Soren Dalsgaard, Robert H. Yolken, Ole Mors, Michael E. Benros. A Nationwide Study in Denmark of the Association Between Treated Infections and the Subsequent Risk of Treated Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents. JAMA Psychiatry, 2018; DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3428

Page citation:

Aarhus University. “Infections during childhood increase the risk of mental disorders.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2018. <>.

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