Risk and protective factors for mental disorders beyond genetics: an evidence-based atlas

Celso Arango, Elena Dragioti, Marco Solmi, Samuele Cortese, Katharina Domschke, Robin M. Murray, Peter B. Jones, Rudolf Uher, Andre F. Carvalho, Abraham Reichenberg, Jae I.I. Shin, Ole A. Andreassen, Christoph U. Correll, Paolo Fusar-Poli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Decades of research have revealed numerous risk factors for mental disorders beyond genetics, but their consistency and magnitude remain uncer­tain. We conducted a “meta-umbrella” systematic synthesis of umbrella reviews, which are systematic reviews of meta-analyses of individual studies, by searching international databases from inception to January 1, 2021. We included umbrella reviews on non-purely genetic risk or protective factors for any ICD/DSM mental disorders, applying an established classification of the credibility of the evidence: class I (convincing), class II (highly suggestive), class III (suggestive), class IV (weak). Sensitivity analyses were conducted on prospective studies to test for temporality (reverse causation), TRANSD criteria were applied to test transdiagnosticity of factors, and A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR) was employed to address the quality of meta-analyses. Fourteen eligible umbrella reviews were retrieved, summarizing 390 meta-analyses and 1,180 associations between putative risk or protective factors and mental disorders. We included 176 class I to III evidence associations, relating to 142 risk/protective factors. The most robust risk factors (class I or II, from prospective designs) were 21. For dementia, they included type 2 diabetes mellitus (risk ratio, RR from 1.54 to 2.28), depression (RR from 1.65 to 1.99) and low frequency of social contacts (RR=1.57). For opioid use disorders, the most robust risk factor was tobacco smoking (odds ratio, OR=3.07). For non-organic psychotic disorders, the most robust risk factors were clinical high risk state for psychosis (OR=9.32), cannabis use (OR=3.90), and childhood adversities (OR=2.80). For depressive disorders, they were widowhood (RR=5.59), sexual dysfunction (OR=2.71), three (OR=1.99) or four-five (OR=2.06) metabolic factors, childhood physical (OR=1.98) and sexual (OR=2.42) abuse, job strain (OR=1.77), obesity (OR=1.35), and sleep disturbances (RR=1.92). For autism spectrum disorder, the most robust risk factor was maternal overweight pre/during pregnancy (RR=1.28). For attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they were maternal pre-pregnancy obesity (OR=1.63), maternal smoking during pregnancy (OR=1.60), and maternal overweight pre/during pregnancy (OR=1.28). Only one robust protective factor was detected: high physical activity (hazard ratio, HR=0.62) for Alzheimer’s disease. In all, 32.9% of the associations were of high quality, 48.9% of medium quality, and 18.2% of low quality. Transdiagnostic class I-III risk/protective factors were mostly involved in the early neurodevelopmental period. The evidence-based atlas of key risk and protective factors identified in this study represents a benchmark for advancing clinical characterization and research, and for expanding early intervention and preventive strategies for mental disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-436
Number of pages20
JournalWorld Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 World Psychiatric Association

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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