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MQ researchers take an important step in developing a global risk predictor for depression

An MQ funded study published today has successfully developed a predictive tool that could help recognise young people who are at high or low risk of depression in young adulthood.

Researchers from MQ’s Identifying Depression Early in Adolescence (IDEA) project used data from over 2000 Brazilian adolescents to develop the tool that was able to identify which young people were at a high risk of  experiencing a major depressive disorder when they reach 18 years.

The goal of the IDEA project is to build on these findings to develop a tool that could be used across the world to identify those at risk, so that interventions can be put in place to help young people as early as possible.

Predictive tools have already been developed for psychosis and many physical health conditions, but little has been done for depression, despite the fact that it effects an estimated 322 million people globally.

In the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the IDEA team also used the model on data from UK and New Zealand datasets. The predictive ability of the score was not as strong in these samples, but this was expected by the team as not all the information used from the Brazilian sample was available in the other datasets and different diagnostic measures were used to assess mental health at 18 years old.

As with most predictive tools, adaptations are necessary from country to country to increase their effectiveness. The IDEA team will continue to refine the model’s power, and improve the methods scientists use to develop and adjust medical risk prediction models so that they can become more truly global. This will not only help young people at risk of mental illness in the UK but also around the world.

Dr Christian Kieling, lead author on the study from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil said: ‘In our study we tried to go beyond more traditional ways of identifying youths at high risk of depression and learn from other medical specialties that combine multiple variables to generate composite risk scores, such as the Framingham cardiovascular risk score. This is relatively new in the field of mental health.’

Dr Valeria Mondelli, IDEA project lead and contributing author on the study, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) King’s College London said: ‘This research marks an important first step in developing an accessible tool that could help screen adolescents for depression and improve mental health worldwide.

Depression can have debilitating lifelong impacts and adolescents are especially vulnerable to its onset. Identification of those at high risk of developing depression in later adolescence could be valuable in devising effective early-intervention strategies to help prevent this illness.’

Alongside this work, the IDEA team are also considering how best to make their tool work in the real world. This includes interviewing adolescents, parents and other stakeholders to understand their perceptions of this tool and the ethical implications of using it to stratify young people in terms of risk for developing depression.

Last updated: 22 January 2020

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