In search of vulnerability mechanisms for adolescent depression

Year of award: 2016


  • Dr Stella Chan

    University of Edinburgh

Project summary

Depression in adolescence can predict lifelong risk for mental and physical illness. Treatment outcomes are poor with a high relapse rate. We urgently need to develop more effective strategies for the detection of illness and early intervention to prevent depression from developing into a chronic and recurrent pattern.

This study aims to identify vulnerability markers for adolescent depression. The focus will be on potentially modifiable mechanisms; one strong candidate is neural-cognitive biases in emotional processing. This study will recruit 300 adolescents and their risk will be indexed by neuroticism, a robust heritable risk factor for depression. Neural-cognitive tasks will be used to assess the way they process emotional information across attention, interpretation and memory. Cortisol levels will be measured as a biological indicator of stress reactivity. This cross-sectional study will identify which emotional processing biases are most strongly associated with risk for adolescent depression.

Findings will establish a significant evidence base and feasibility for a future cohort study that will examine how these biases can be used to predict adolescent depression longitudinally. Identification of vulnerability markers before the onset of illness will potentially transform prevention and intervention by providing an objective screening tool and potential targets for new treatments.