Dr. Michael Schlitt, Neurosurgeon, Neurosurgery, Seattle

Biomarker for Depression Discovered

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Teenage Problems, Social Issues and Bullying

Teens, like this one, frequently suffer from bullying.

Being a teenager can be difficult.  Between peer pressure and the stress from a developing brain, many teens suffer from severe depression; approximately 11.2% of American teens are known to.  But according to a recent article, researchers from the UK have discovered a biomarker that could predict the likelihood of clinical depression in teenage boys.  The research team claims that the discovery could ensure that depression is treated early, leading to a reduction in the number of people suffering from the disorder.

The investigators collected saliva samples from hundreds of teenage boys and girls, and measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and teenagers were then made to self-report any symptoms of depression.  Then, based on cortisol levels and depressive symptoms, the investigators divided the teenagers into four distinct groups.  They were then followed up for between 12 and 36 months, after which time investigators could determine which group would be most likely to develop clinical depression, as well as other disorders.

The research team discovered that boys with depressive symptoms and high levels of cortisol in their saliva were 14 times more likely to develop clinical depression, compared with boys who had low levels of cortisol and no depressive symptoms.  Depressive girls, on the other hand, were only four times more likely to develop clinical depression, compared with girls who had no symptoms of depression and low cortisol levels.  According to investigators, these findings suggest that gender differences play a significant part in the development of clinical depression.

They also say that this newly discovered biomarker could help primary care services to identify boys at high risk for depression.  They hope that their findings will lead to new mental health strategies for teenage boys.  Dr. Matthew Owens, a Cambridge professor and co-author of the study, says that this new biomarker could offer a more personalized approach to combatting the risk of depression and potentially suicide in teenage boys.  While girls are statistically more likely to attempt suicide, teenage boys are drastically more likely to actually die from suicide, with 81% of deaths in youths between 10 and 24 years old occurring in boys.

According to Dr. Owens, future work on the study should focus on a more comprehensive grasp of depression.  More likely than not, there are other biomarkers out there.  It is important to understand how cortisol contributes to depression and whether or not it can successfully be used for prevention and treatment.  Recently, Medical News Today also reported on a study suggesting that boys who think they are “underweight” are more likely to suffer from depression.

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