Brain scientists in Britain have found the first biological signpost for clinical depression in teenage boys that will allow doctors to find kids at risk before they develop a mental illness. Major depression is preventable and it could be as simple as using a cortisol test to discover a high risk factor.
The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) published the findings of the study. It details how depression symptoms in teenage boys, paired with high cortisol levels, are 14 times more likely to develop major depression. Cortisol is the stress hormone. When high levels of this hormone are present, along with common symptoms of depression, it presents a warning that major depression could develop later in life.
Screenings of teenage boys could identify these biomarkers and help them avoid being overcome with severe depression. The research on the biomarkers involved measuring cortisol levels from the boy’s saliva. Results were recorded during the first week and again after a year had passed. Participants also reported times when they felt sad or anxious.
The boys were then divided into four groups, based on their cortisol levels. Each group was studied for another three years. The fourth group, which had the highest cortisol levels, were more likely to develop major depression than the others. In fact, they were 14 percent more likely to develop it than the first group, which had the lowest levels of cortisol.
One of the scientists that was involved with the study was Barbara Sahakian, a professor at Cambridge University. She described major depression as a much bigger problem than heart disease or cancer.” She also stated that it is more expensive that either of these conditions and is often under-treated.
Depression is a result of genetics, chemical make-up and lifestyle choices. It can be triggered by particularly stressful life events, debilitating illness or substance abuse. It is more than a feeling of sadness. Though short periods of depression are normal, chronic depression needs medical attention. It is estimated that 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Suicide, a common side effect of major depression, leads to one million deaths each year. Yet there is still a stigma attached to it, as well as getting help for it.
Professor Ian Goodyer led the study. He claims that finding this new biomarker gives professionals a new approach to helping boys who exhibit risk factors for major depression.
Thanks to the findings in this study, the focus can shift to preventing major depression in teenage boys. Prevention programs can be developed to treat those who exhibit high risk factors. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been effective in using early intervention techniques to reduce depression. Such programs involve strengthening cognitive abilities, providing problem-solving tools and addressing social problems in teens.
The results of the study show that early detection can save lives. When teenage boys are screened for the risk factors associated with major depression, they can be entered into a prevention program designed to stop the depression from fully developing into a debilitating mental illness. Left unchecked, major depression can have a negative impact on the education, relationships, social life and self-image of teenage boys.
By Tracy Rose