Since completing my PhD, I have been using genetics to try to understand complex diseases. Much of my career has focused on obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but my interests have recently expanded to include serious mental illness. This is because serious mental illness is accompanied by increased risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, for reasons that are poorly understood. By better understanding the connection between mental and physical illness, we hope to identify ways to improve treatment (and long term health) for individuals with serious mental illness.
One approach is to study the individual components which characterise serious mental illness, specifically trying to identify genetic regulators of each component and explore how the components combine to result in serious mental illness. Suicidal behaviour is one component of serious mental illness, although some behaviours are also apparent in those without serious mental illness. We have identified genetic risk factors for suicidal behaviour* and are now trying to understand whether these can improve identification of those at high risk of suicide attempts.Rona Strawbridge, University of Glasgow