So admittedly, I’m not going to get even close to answering this in a blog post, but I recently came across one (of many) really good answers to this question, by Thomas R. Insel in JAMA Psychiatry.
JAMA Network | JAMA | Mental Disorders in Childhood: Shifting the Focus From Behavioral Symptoms to Neurodevelopmental Trajectories http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1866117
It’s about how psychiatric disorders are increasingly being considered as neurodevelopmental and why that is important. Saying that a disorder is neurodevelopmental means it is linked to abnormal brain development and in turn to genetics, because more than 80% of the genome is expressed in the human brain which is more than in any other organ!
So that’s all great for us researchers (because it is extremely fascinating to study), but what does it mean for people with psychiatric problems and for treatment? Well, based on brain research, on for example Parkinson’s disease, we today know that there are often changes in the brain long before someone gets ill.
These changes can be called biomarkers and the idea is that if we find reliable biomarkers for neurodevelopmental disorder we might be able to identify and treat at risk individuals before the disorder develops. Insel goes on to talk about the issues with early identifications and what findings such biomarkers should and shouldn’t mean – for example that it should NOT automatically mean we put at risk kids on drugs.
Basically, the article is great – read it, get informed, get excited and maybe even a bit concerned.
Also (time for shameless blog self-promotion) if you think this is interesting, check back soon because I have another answer to this question up my sleeve…