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Daughters of WWII refugees are more likely to have mental illness: study (axios.com)
64 points by pshaw on Nov 30, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

Missing from the headline: this is only daughters of female refugees. Sons of refugees had unchanged mental illness rates, but so did daughters of male refugees.

That's pretty surprising, and while it doesn't rule out a gender-roles explanation (maybe male refugees didn't describe their experiences as often?), it does gesture pointedly at epigenetic causes.

Also notable: the study had a clever control (non-refugee first cousins of refugee children) which seems to account for both population genetics and gender distinctions in hospitalization.

I closely knew a man who was a 'second generation World War II victim'. Outwardly a normal person but utterly unable to normally function in society. The government recognized his plight and put him on a lifelong pension which he used to try to do as much good as he could in the neighborhood where he lived (and where he was hugely popular).

Links between early life adversity and later pace of aging and risk of age-related disease may be mediated by cytomegalovirus exposure.


"The paper here finds that persistent cytomegalovirus infection is likely the mediating mechanism linking early life stress and later increased risk of age-related disease, acting through accelerated immune system dysfunction. This implies that the early stress may or may not be all that important, as - for whatever reason - the groups selected as examples of stress in early life are also more likely to be infected. That might be the short-term detrimental effects of stress on immune function, or it could be a matter of being in close contact with more distinct groups of people during childhood, as is the case for the adopted individuals in the study here. Cytomegalovirus is a persistent herpesvirus that the immune system cannot effectively clear from the body. Near everyone becomes infected at some point in life, and extensive evidence links this infection with immune system dysfunction. Increasing numbers of immune cells become dedicated to uselessly fighting cytomegalovirus, and ever fewer are left for everything else the immune system must accomplish. Other than this long-term corrosion, cytomegalovirus doesn't cause obvious symptoms in the vast majority of people - few notice the initial infection."

This is also compatible as a mechanism to explain greater disease risk in descendants, since growing up in an infected household presumably raises the risk of early infection with cytomegalovirus.

How does this relate to OP, which found a difference between genders living in the same places, and which is about mental illness, not age-related illness?

Edit: Oh, you work at an age-related disease website, so you comment exclusively through that lens.

Interesting. But the study only looks at hospitalization. Is it possible that women are more likely to go to the hospital than men?

Yes, but doesn't the genetic control here also control for that?

They compared first children of refugees to their first-cousins born to non-refugees, and found a difference in frequency. So presumably a change would still be detected if sons of refugees were less likely than daughters to be hospitalized.

(I can think of some other ways gender could mess this up, I guess. For instance: schizophrenia is more common in men, heavily genetic, and probably not affected by refugee status - which could create a "base load" of male hospitalizations that pushes any change among men below significance.)

Also striking, though: "was not true for male offspring or the descendents of men." The headline misses it, but this result was only for daughters of mothers; even daughters of fathers (i.e. people with female hospitalization rates) weren't affected.

That's the part that screams 'epigenetics' to me.

Hospital? I'm not sure... But women are much more likely to see a doctor regularly than men are.

I reckon men with mental issues tend to end up in jail in many cases.

Drugs too, homeless as well.

Men kill themselves.

As a person with MDD, I'm glad studies like these are coming out. This is the best resource material I've seen about MDD and it's helped me a lot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOAgplgTxfc

I'll second this video recommendation. Robert Sapolsky is an incredible researcher and lecturer.

This is a crazy coincidence. Me and my sister are trying to get help for my mom right now for the very same thing, and our grandma was a WWII refugee from Finland.

Can we use this knowledge to do something about the children and especially the daughters of the refugees coming out of Syria now?

Are there that many women and children coming out of Syria? It seems like most of the migrants into the E.U are working aged men.

Read The Last 100 Days or listen to Dan Carlin's Ghosts of the Ostfront podcasts to get a sense of how apocalyptic that conflict was. No wonder the psychic scars persist for generations.

Women tend to also have a lot more social baggage hung on them. It makes me wonder if the evacuation and trauma made it particularly difficult to figure out how to fit in socially in a new place.

(I mean as just one element that may have contributed.)

>Women tend to have a lot more social baggage

There are studies that show that women internalise emotional traumata much deeper than men, thus have a higher risk of PTSD (Can't remember if this is linked to the on-average better memory of women).

As far as I know this is unrelated to the fact that women are more likely to seek help for mental issues (which would naturally skew the numbers towards women).

"Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms." -WHO

This would also skew the numbers towards women. Seeking help and not getting it because of gender bias can have a very strong negative effect. We keep hearing here on HN how not being taken serious by the police will make victims stop reporting crime. There is no reason why the same effect should not apply here.

To cite an other researcher and problem:

"Johnson also cites depression as a key example of gender bias in the diagnosis of psychological disorders. She explains that the current profile for depression is based on a female model."

It is rather well established that a lot of historical research only looked at either men or women when establishing models we use today to diagnose problems. ADHD comes in mind where a lot of identifiers are based on a male model, causing a lot of women to be miss diagnosed. Depression apparently has the opposite gender bias.

There are studies that show that women internalise emotional traumata much deeper than men, thus have a higher risk of PTSD (Can't remember if this is linked to the on-average better memory of women).

This in no way rebuts my thought. What if they are related? What if women internalize trauma more and suffer PTSD more in part because the entire social fabric of their life experience is fundamentally different from men?

This has been my experience as a woman. I do something a man would do, it gets a completely different reaction, and not in a good way. Trying to make my own life work gets me seemingly perceived as some kind of evil feminist. Men who try to figure out how to make money are not viewed as some kind of political activist or troublemaker, threatening the status quo.

I have gotten insane amounts of pushback for what I feel are completely innocuous behaviors. I have terrible eyesight, so I tend to sit up front in meetings or classes. This gets interpreted by other people as Type A personality extremely aggressive, ambitious behavior and prominent people will publicly comment on what an aberration it is. Their comments clearly come from a place of judging it to be disruptive, egomaniacal behavior. No one ever thinks "Well, maybe she can't see the presentation well enough from the back of the room." It is always framed in terms of me being an uppity woman who does not know my place in the world.

My "place" clearly being back row seats. Which reminds me of the historical expectation that blacks in the US had to sit at the back of the bus and stand up and give their seat to a white person if there weren't enough seats for everyone.

I did not intend to rebut! I saw you downvoted for no given reason (as so often these days on HN) and wanted to support your comment. People interested in this topic will have no problem finding the relevant studies, which is why I didn't even bother to include links.

I just wish people didn't abuse the downvote button so often. Instead of pushing irrelevant or toxic comments down, it's used to punish differing opinions. (Sorry for the offtopic rant)

Thank you for the clarification.

> As far as I know this is unrelated to the fact that women are more likely to seek help for mental issues

How do you "AFAIK" it? Do you have some statistics showing women have more PTSD than men after traumatic situations? Another comment got a lot of downvotes saying basically the same thing.

I don't understand why you're down voted for this, it's a valid question. I afaiked it, because I read about it in one or two papers, but I honestly didn't bother to source check for an offhand comment on HN.

Young women being evacuated are also like a dog whistle for rapists.

Think about it. In a total mobilization, what caliber of conscript is getting assigned to guarding the kids? Who is going to be working at the orphanage or refugee center? I wouldn’t want my wife, sister or daughter in the custody the dregs of rear echelon conscripts in any Army.

I’m not sure what the scope of the study was, but look at what happened to women in the immediate aftermath of the war in postwar Germany.

From my understanding of WWII it was the opposite. Women that were not evacuated were raped by invading forces, women that were evacuated stayed in mostly all women dormitories/cities. The type of man who was evacuated as well was mostly physically sick or too old to fight.

Citations? AFAIK more men commit suicide so any inference drawn from such superficial statistics is going to be shaky at best...

Substantially more women than men attempt suicide; more men than women die by suicide, because they tend to choose far more lethal methods. Wrist-cutting and drug overdoses are preferred by women and have a survival rate of over 98%; firearms have a fatality rate of over 80%, while hanging has a fatality rate of over 60%.

Suicide tends to be impulsive and 70% of people who survive a suicide attempt do not make a further attempt, so the lethality of the chosen method has a huge impact on completion rates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_differences_in_suicide https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/case-...


if you know that this is heavily triggered by emotional / feels, then you can see why women might be more suceptible to these things. (as they are generally raised in a way to be more on the feels side of things, there is actually no natural difference, only imprinted later in life.)

Certainly there was a difference back then in how male and female children were allowed to deal with emotion. I was viciously beaten as a child in the early sixties for crying - as were my brothers - to teach me not to. My sister wasn't until older, if at all. These beatings could go on for very long periods of time, until breathing became convulsive, and continued after that point, too. When my younger brother died in his teens, my "training" held and I wasn't able to cry (but I've got that back in spades, since.) This was only somewhat extreme for the time. So back then, was there a "feels" (repression) difference for men and women? Oh, yeah, by no accident.

However, I believe the evidence shows this actually leaves males more vulnerable to trauma and PTSD, not less. I don't have links for that, just memory of the science, but what you deal with during the day is perhaps less likely to keep you up at night.

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