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Identifying Depression Early in Adolescence (IDEA)

Research awardBrighter Futures

Funding period2018-2020

Lead institution King's College London

Lead locationUnited Kingdom


Can we identify those most at risk of depression early in adolescence?

Depression affects about one in five people around the world during their lifetimes. For the majority of people it starts early in life – and can have debilitating lifelong impacts.

Despite this staggering prevalence and awareness growing daily – we still lack the ability to predict which young people are most likely to be affected. Unlike other areas of healthcare, robust screening tools for depression at a young age do not exist. This means many opportunities to intervene early are missed, placing enormous strains on services and too often ruining lives.

The project

MQ’s IDEA project is a new major study analysing research and data about social and family environment, stressful experiences, brain images, and biological data of 10-24 year olds from four different countries – the UK, Brazil, Nigeria and Nepal. By combining data from across the globe the IDEA team hope to find universal and context-specific risk factors for depression in young people. 

Using data from high to low-middle income countries and in different cultural settings, the project will bring a deeper understanding of the cultural, social, genetic, and environmental factors leading to the development of depression.

The process 

The project team for this two-year initiative is led by Dr. Valeria Mondelli at King’s College London. They will be undertaking four key workstreams:

  • The team will begin by reviewing existing literature on depression – and work with experts across the world to develop consensus recommendations on risk factors contributing to depression. These will then form the basis of a model to create a composite risk score for depression.
  • They will use existing data of young people who have engaged in research from the UK, Brazil, Nigeria and Nepal to identify which combinations of factors lead to depression.
  • The next stage will focus on brain imaging, characterisation of immune markers and gene expression, investigating the potential this type of research could have on increasing understanding depression in adolescence.
  • Finally, they will see if the rigorous research methods can be replicated in resource poor settings in Nigeria and Nepal, and whether tools to identify the risk of depression could be integrated into health care services across the world.

The Potential

Understanding the factors putting young people at risk of depression is crucial if we are to intervene early and get children the support they need. This project provides the data needed to create a tool to be able to screen young people for depression, which could become part of global health services. With this knowledge, we’d be able to get more children the help they need early on.  And for culturally diverse countries like the United Kingdom, this is a particularly important consideration in improving mental healthcare.  

And the unique worldwide perspective of the study allows us to see, for the first time, whether (and which of) these factors are universal or context-specific in the emergence of depression.

The IDEA Team:

Valeria Mondelli, King's College London (Co-Principal Investigator) 
Christian Kieling, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Co-Principal Investigator) 
Abiodun Adewuya, Lagos State University College of Medicine
Helen Fisher, King's College London
Rakesh Karmacharya, Harvard University
Brandon Kohrt, George Washington University
Johnna Swartz, University of California Davis

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