The study cohort included more than 1,000 individuals who were evaluated for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder from ages 11 to 38. The length of their telomeres was evaluated at age 38. The researchers found in males, but not in females, that persistence of internalizing disorders across repeated assessments predicted shorter telomeres at age 38 in a dose-response manner, and this finding held true even when potential confounders such as childhood maltreatment, smoking, psychiatric medication use, poor physical health, or low socioeconomic status were considered.
"Because internalizing disorders are treatable, the findings suggest [that] treating psychiatric disorders in the first half of the life course may reduce the population burden of age-related disease and extend health expectancy," the researchers concluded. However, they do acknowledge that "long-term follow-up studies are needed to test whether accelerated telomere erosion indeed mediates the link between internalizing disorders and later age-related disease outcomes."
The study was conducted by Idan Shalev, Ph.D., of the Duke University Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and an international group of colleagues.
More information about telomeres and psychiatric illness can be found in the Psychiatric News articles, "Telomeres Hold Considerable Sway Over Our Health" and "The Tale of the Telomeres Gets Ever-More Complex."