New tool assesses risk of depression in adolescence

Researchers from King’s College London have helped develop a predictive tool that recognises adolescents at risk of depression in young adulthood. 

Adolescents depression.x9d93672fUsing data from more than 2,000 Brazilian adolescents, researchers at King’s College London have supported the development of a tool that helps identify which young people are at risk of experiencing a major depressive disorder when they reach 18 years-of-age. 

The study also evaluated the performance of the tool in samples of adolescents from New Zealand and the UK, demonstrating differences in its ability to predict depression across these countries and highlighting the need to consider local variations when developing predictive tools.  

Predictive tools have been developed for psychosis and many physical health conditions. However, current methods for assessing the risk of depression are based on family history and subthreshold symptoms. This research is part of the Identifying Depression Early in Adolescence (IDEA) project, for which King’s College London is the lead institution. 

Valeria Mondelli, IDEA project lead and 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. 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.

Based on existing research and clinical expertise, researchers identified 11 sociodemographic variables that could be combined into a single score to recognise those adolescents at risk of developing depression.  

The sociodemographic variables used were biological sex, skin colour, drug use, school failure, social isolation, fight involvement, poor relationship with mother, poor relationship with father, poor relationship between parents, childhood maltreatment and history of running away from home. 

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. This is relatively new in the field of mental health.

The study compared the ability of this tool to predict depression in a sample of 1,144 British 12-year-old’s and 739 15-year-old's from New Zealand which were taken from ongoing studies into human health, development and behaviour. The predictive ability of the score was not as strong in the samples from UK and New Zealand, as not all necessary information was available in these datasets. 

Dr Christian Kieling said:  

The existence of these discrepancies does not discount the value of our tool but provides important insight into adapting the score according to where it will be used… As part of the IDEA project, we are working to further improve the precision of the tool by studying biomarkers of risk for depression in adolescents.

Learn more about this research on the King’s College London website

The King’s Health Partners Psychological Medicine and Integrated Care Clinical Academic Group delivers world-class specialist services in mood disorders, eating disorders, mother and baby, psychosexual, neuropsychiatry, memory disorders and HIV in the context of mental health.