Skip to content

“IDEA is a global effort with an ambitious aim”

IDEA is one of MQ’s biggest projects, exploring how we can identify depression in young people as early as possible. The team writes about pushing boundaries and defying conventional ways of working...

Worldwide, about 11% of all teenagers will be diagnosed with depression by the time they reach the age of 18. Research has shown that depression can impact the lives of young people in multiple ways if it’s not treated properly. It can potentially lead to failing in school, family crisis, substance abuse and even suicide¹.

But what if we could identify depression in young people before it even begins?

The Identifying Depression Early in Adolescence (IDEA) Consortium is working across continents to create tangible ways to identify young people at risk of developing depression globally. This is a bold - and unparalleled task. And it requires a unique approach…

We’re working across the world

IDEA spans four different countries: Brazil, Nepal, Nigeria and the UK. The team brings together scientists from different disciplines, while each country brings to the table different sets of expertise– and data. This enables us to explore the differences between how depression is perceived by teachers in Brazil, for example, and teachers in Nepal or in Nigeria. Just imagine how rich this comparison can be!

The project enables us to combine state-of-the-art, methodologically rigorous research with innovative techniques taking place in countries like Brazil, in which similar research has yet to be conducted. This diversity gives us the chance to understand processes that are specific to each country, before combining and comparing data from different countries to identify the general factors that appear to contribute to the development of depression early in adolescence.

We’re truly collaborative

The IDEA team brings together experts in different fields of research; from those capable of developing and validating a predictive risk score, to others that conduct qualitative research to assess the acceptability of using such a score.

It’s only by combining these different types of research that we can explore what puts people at risk of developing depression in a multidimensional way. We understand that research must look at real-world situations and problems and try to create solutions that are feasible. This means we ought to look at sociodemographic factors – such as the person’s relationship with family, neglect and abuse, but can’t neglect to explore biological factors that can be associated with developing depression. By exploring relations between different types of data, we recognise that, in the real world, all these factors act simultaneously and can give us a deeper understanding of how depression can develop.

Through all of this, the project has shown us that it’s possible to achieve truly collaborative science. From discussing data collection strategies to learning new skills, we have been able to share experiences and gain knowledge with experts that live and work miles away only to apply it in real-time and in our real-world context.

We’re in a long-distance relationship – and it’s working

Working in an international consortium means that we e-mail and voice-chat a lot, but rarely get to meet face to face. Recently, we had the chance to meet our long-distance coworkers in London and talk about all the work we are doing together.

A project like IDEA has many types of data being collected: magnetic resonance images, sociodemographic variables, data from saliva and blood…. And, in a little longer than two days, we shared the development and preliminary results of the many works being done and learned from these processes. This gave us an idea on how our different teams are analyzing these different kinds of data, and also our preliminary results.

Meeting face to face helps us realise that we are now just starting to understand the real impact of the results we are getting and how transformative this work could be for young people in the future.

It takes a lot to develop a project like ours: to connect multiple countries, researchers, and to use high-profile techniques, there’s a lot of expertise involved. And MQ has a vital role in supporting us through all the steps of the research, from financing it to bringing in complementary expertise. The technical support MQ provides us enhances our team’s knowledge on conducting research, making the whole process possible – and a lot easier.

We have one thing in common: we won’t stop until we find answers

We hope that the IDEA consortium continues to grow stronger and wider – enabling us to expand our models to other parts of the world.

Ultimately, we want to create a global risk score that doctors and other professionals can use to identify those most at risk of depression and ultimately prevent adolescent depression - no matter where on the planet.


¹ Kieling C, Baker-Henningham H, Belfer M, Conti G, Ertem I, Omigbodun O, et al. Child and adolescent mental health worldwide: evidence for action. The Lancet. October  2011;378(9801):1515–25.

Last updated: 14 January 2020

Subscribe to our newsletter. Get the latest news on mental health.

© 2020 © MQ: Transforming mental health 2016 | Registered charity in England / Wales: 1139916 & Scotland: SC046075 | Company number: 7406055