Higher Risk of Mental Illness for Those With Older Fathers

Massive study finds children with older dads much more likely to have autism, ADHD and bipolar disorder.

Massive study finds children with older dads much more likely to have autism, ADHD and bipolar disorder.

A new study has found that the children of older fathers have a much greater risk of serious mental illness.

The findings come from a huge number of people: everyone born in Sweden between 1973 and 2001 (D’Onofrio et al., 2014).

The researchers included over 2.5 million people, representing almost 90% of the population.

They found associations between older fathers and psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism and ADHD.

When they compared fathers who were 24-years-old with those who were 45-years old, they found that children of the older fathers were:

  • 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder,
  • 13 times more likely to have ADHD,
  • 3.5 times more likely to have autism,
  • 2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behaviour.

The findings remained after they controlled for birth order, education and a host of other variables.

Brian D’Onofrio, the study’s lead author, expressed surprise at these numbers:

“We were shocked by the findings. The specific associations with paternal age were much, much larger than in previous studies.”

Faulty sperm

The authors suggest that the explanation for the association is that, while women are born with all their eggs, men continue to produce sperm, which degrades in quality over their lifetime.

People are exposed to all kinds of environmental toxins which could cause this kind of genetic mutation.

Molecular genetic studies have indeed found just this degradation in the quality of men’s sperm with age.

D’Onofrio concludes:

“While the findings do not indicate that every child born to an older father will have these problems, they add to a growing body of research indicating that advancing paternal age is associated with increased risk for serious problems. As such, the entire body of research can help to inform individuals in their personal and medical decision-making.”

With the average age at which men have children increasing in many countries, these findings could have important implications for both public policy and for individual decisions about when to procreate.

Image credit: Nisha A

Rethinking The Stress Mindset: Can You Find The Upside of Pressure?

Is it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or is stress always debilitating?

Is it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or is stress always debilitating?

It’s striking how much of our emotional experience is down to interpretation.

Take the physical feelings you get when you’re about to talk in public: the sweaty palms, the churning stomach and the spinning room. Isn’t that much the same physical experience you get when you’ve fallen in love?

Yet one experience most would run a mile from and the other we enjoy. The difference is partly down to the meaning we give these events.

But how far does this go? What about the hassles of everyday life and stress in general? Is stress really a killer or can it be reinterpreted away?

Well, there’s certainly such a thing as the way that we habitually think about stress. One of the most common, which is frequently reinforced by the media, is the ‘stress-is-debilitating’ mindset.

What Crum et al. (2013) wonder in a new paper is: can we change this mindset and does thinking about stress in a positive way have any effect on how we react to it?

To conduct some preliminary tests, they recruited a group of investment bankers, who were split into three groups, each of which were shown a different 10-minute video. Some of them watched a video that suggested stress can be good for you.

The ‘stress-is-enhancing’ video suggested that some people do their best work under pressure: for example, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed his stricken airliner on the Hudson River and Winston Churchill successfully led Britain through WWII.

A second group watched a video reinforcing the idea that stress is debilitating, while a third acted as a control.

The bankers reported back over a few weeks on their stress mindset, how they were doing at work and their levels of stress. The results showed that those who’d seen the ‘stress-is-enhancing’ video did develop a more positive stress mindset. This led to them reporting better performance at work and fewer psychological problems over the subsequent two weeks.

This suggests something as simple as a short video can start to change how you think about stress, at least in the short-term.

Another study by Crum et al. examined one possible mechanism for how a changed mindset might be beneficial. This found that people who tended to think stress was enhancing were more likely to want feedback. So, people who think positively about stress are likely to use that to help them solve problems.

In addition, thinking that stress is enhancing was associated with lower levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with the stress response. In other words, people’s physiological reaction to stress was better when they endorsed the idea that stress is enhancing.

So, is stress good or bad for you? This evidence underlines the fact that, as so often, what you believe influences how both mind and body reacts.

Image credit: Truthout.org

Classifying Madness: Criticisms and Alternatives


Over the years, Vincent van Gogh’s mental illness has been classified in 30 different ways by over 150 different physicians, not just those who originally treated him. It is becoming clear that, in the classification of madness, this is far from an isolated example. Amongst the ranks of both psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are those who argue for a radical rethink.

Continue reading “Classifying Madness: Criticisms and Alternatives”