The molecular story in positive mental health changes

Epigenetic mechanisms are biochemical processes that occur at the level of human genes. Alterations at this level of biological functioning have recently been observed following stressful or beneficial environmental inputs. Indeed, over the last decade, this emerging field of research has been showing incredible promise for applied health therapies and interventions, including within the field of psychology. Within this context, the evidence of the benefits of psychological interventions on biological and genetic markers have been demonstrated across a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These findings are encouraging in the light of what they tell us about the possibility for positive mental health changes when evidence-based practices are used. For instance, multiple studies over the last decade have demonstrated the positive impacts of therapeutic interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). While these treatments resulted in improvements in participants’ symptoms for a range of mental health conditions such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, phobias, changes in molecular mechanisms that are associated with these conditions were also observed.

The results are compelling because…

  • Evidence indicated that mental health challenges, while “invisible”, do indeed leave physiological traces – these traces may allow practitioners to better monitor whether individuals are experiencing benefits from their treatments.
  • While genetic and hereditary factors may play a role in whether people experience mental ill health, multiple psychosocial, environmental, and behavioural factors and changes can indeed be protective and even restorative.

Most importantly, as we collectively struggle against worsening mental health within our communities, these findings are significant because they remind us that we can take comfort in knowing that consistent psychological interventions and practice do positively and profoundly influence mental health and wellbeing for those of us who suffer. Finally, improving social supports such as building empathetic peer groups and psychologically caring communities helps to cement the gains that flow from positive mental health interventions at work, and beyond.

To understand how to improve and sustain mental health gains in your workplace using evidence-based methods, contact us at learningandwellbeing@cfch.com.au or on 02 8243 1500


References:

García-Gutiérrez, M. S., Navarrete, F., Sala, F., Gasparyan, A., Austrich-Olivares, A., & Manzanares, J. (2020). Biomarkers in psychiatry: concept, definition, types, and relevance to the clinical reality. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 432. [https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00432]

Romana, P. G., Daniela, S., Chiara, C., Arianna, G., Paola, A., & Carlo, L. (2022). Epigenetic correlates of the psychological intervention outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis: Epigenetic effects of psychological interventions. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 100310. [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadr.2022.100310]

Schiele, M. A., Gottschalk, M. G., & Domschke, K. (2020). The applied implications of epigenetics in anxiety, affective and stress-related disorders-A review and synthesis on psychosocial stress, psychotherapy, and prevention. Clinical Psychology Review. [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101830]