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Title: The role of environmental sensitivity in the mental health of Syrian refugee children: a multi-level analysis
Authors: May, Andrew K
Smeeth, Demelza
McEwen, Fiona
Karam, Elie G. 
Rieder, Michael J
Elzagallaai, Abdelbaset A
van Uum, Stan
Lionetti, Francesca
Pluess, Michael
Affiliations: Faculty of Medicine 
Issue Date: 2024-05-03
Part of: Molecular Psychiatry
Individuals with high environmental sensitivity have nervous systems that are disproportionately receptive to both the protective and imperilling aspects of the environment, suggesting their mental health is strongly context-dependent. However, there have been few consolidated attempts to examine putative markers of sensitivity, across different levels of analysis, within a single cohort of individuals with high-priority mental health needs. Here, we examine psychological (self-report), physiological (hair hormones) and genetic (polygenic scores) markers of sensitivity in a large cohort of 1591 Syrian refugee children across two waves of data. Child-caregiver dyads were recruited from informal tented settlements in Lebanon, and completed a battery of psychological instruments at baseline and follow-up (12 months apart). Univariate and multivariate Bayesian linear mixed models were used to examine a) the interrelationships between markers of sensitivity and b) the ability of sensitivity markers to predict anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and externalising behaviour. Self-reported sensitivity (using the Highly Sensitive Child Scale) significantly predicted a higher burden of all forms of mental illness across both waves, however, there were no significant cross-lagged pathways. Physiological and genetic markers were not stably predictive of self-reported sensitivity, and failed to similarly predict mental health outcomes. The measurement of environmental sensitivity may have significant implications for identifying and treating mental illness, especially amongst vulnerable populations, but clinical utility is currently limited to self-report assessment.
ISSN: 13594184
DOI: 10.1038/s41380-024-02573-x
Type: Journal Article
Appears in Collections:Faculty of Medicine

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