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Mental Health Center

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School Shooting Study Shows Genetic Links to PTSD

Genes May Have Role in Determining Who Bounces Back, Who Struggles After Trauma

Genes, Environment, and Trauma continued...

Close proximity more than doubled the women’s risk for psychological problems in the weeks after the shooting.

Ressler then compared the women’s genotypes to their PTSD symptoms.

Those who inherited genes, including 5-HTTLPR, that made them slower to clear serotonin were more likely to go on develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder than those who could clear serotonin more quickly.

That relationship remained even after researchers adjusted for the women’s exposure to the trauma, and Ressler says, a woman’s genes were nearly as powerful a predictor of future mental problems as how close she was to the violence.

“The really important thing about this study is that it shows that potentially, ordinary individuals will be able to take pre-emptive action to stop themselves from getting illnesses like PTSD and depression,” which can be chronic and disabling, Moffitt says.

One day, she says, genetic testing may educate people about their ability to withstand stress.

People who know what genes they carry, she says, “have the option to take action and seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional, as soon as a major stressful life event enters their life.”

Other experts agree.

“The genetic factors, which we have always known seem to exist, this study gives some evidence to that,” says Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was has helped to treat survivors of the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“A large number of survivors naturally recover from disasters over time and they seem to move on without having severe, long-lasting health problems,” but others don’t. This study, he says, helps to show why.

The study is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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