Depression is a state of mind and the possibilities for predicting if a person is depressed are low. But now, researchers say they have taken their “first step” towards a screening tool that will predict the risk on clinical depression in teenage boys.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge aim to develop a new way of screening depression the same way as heart problems. They believe that those with high levels of stress hormone cortisol, who feel miserable, lonely and unloved, could be at greatest risk.
Researchers tested 1858 teenagers, combined hormone levels and mood questionnaires to assess risk. They inferred that having both high cortisol levels and depressive mood symptoms posed a higher risk of depression than either factor alone and presented a risk of clinical depression 14 times that of those with low cortisol and no depressive symptoms.
Around one in six boys was in the high-risk category and half of them were diagnosed with clinical depression during the three years of study.
One of the researchers, Prof Ian Goodyer, said: "Depression is a terrible illness that will affect as many as 10 million people in the UK at some point in their lives.
"Through our research, we now have a very real way of identifying those teenage boys most likely to develop clinical depression.
"This will help us strategically target preventions and interventions at these individuals and hopefully help reduce their risk of serious episodes of depression, and their consequences, in adult life."
However, their method was far less useful in girls. The study was reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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