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A Life Course Approach to Mental Disorders$
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Karestan C. Koenen, Sasha Rudenstine, Ezra Susser, and Sandro Galea

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199657018

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657018.001.0001

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Life course approaches to mental illness: the emergence of a concept

Life course approaches to mental illness: the emergence of a concept

(p.3) Chapter 1 Life course approaches to mental illness: the emergence of a concept
A Life Course Approach to Mental Disorders

Karestan C. Koenen

Sasha Rudenstine

Ezra Susser

Sandro Galea

Oxford University Press

A life course approach to mental disorders is concerned with the interplay of social and biological factors in the production and consequences of mental illness over the life span—from the postnatal period to death and across generations. In the past 20 years, however, there has been an explosion in research on the life course epidemiology of mental disorders motivated by three factors. First, numerous birth cohorts have aged into adulthood. Research on these birth cohorts has documented that mental disorders onset early in life and that new onsets of mental disorders in adulthood are the exception. Second, rapid advances in technology that make the collection and analysis of biological samples feasible and inexpensive has made the integration of biological measures into extant cohorts possible. Third, the fields of developmental cognitive neuroscience and epigenetics have produced a revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms through which external environmental exposures get ‘under the skin’ and cause disease. However, this profound transformation in our understanding of the origins of mental disorders through research is not yet reflected in our training, policy or practice in population health.

Keywords:   life course, mental disorders, birth cohorts, neuroscience, epigenetics

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