A SALIVA test could be used to detect boys at high risk of major depression and suicidal behaviours, after researchers cracked a testing combination they believe could be a biomarker for the disorder.
Australian researchers have welcomed the UK breakthrough, with one in seven people experiencing depression in their lifetime.
There is no test to predict those at-risk, despite those who experience major depression in childhood or adolescence at four times the risk of future episodes in adulthood.
The researchers found that by pairing a salvia test first thing in the morning that detect levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol with a self-reported questionnaire of depressive symptoms, they could predict the onset of clinical depression in a subset of high-risk boys.
In the study of more than 1800 teenagers, they also found that neither boys or girls who had high cortisol levels but no depressive symptoms were unlikely to develop mental health problems, suggesting the strength of the test based on combining the two risk-factors.
Melbourne clinical psychologist Dr Simon Crisp, said this study opened up new ways of trying to screen those at risk.
“The mechanisms of what leads to depression are still a long way from being completely understood, but it’s obvious cortisol is one significant piece in the puzzle,’’ Dr Crisp said.
“We know there is a real range of environmental and historical factors that put people at higher risk like early childhood experiences, loss or attachment difficulties early in life.
“This finding starts to link the less understood factors and the actual onset of depression.”
Black Dog Institute principal researcher, Professor Philip Mitchell said the study showed that a “relatively simple process” may help identify young men who will graduate from episodes of mild depression to self-harm behaviours.
“This finding suggests that trials of early intervention should be focused on boys with this particular profile,” Prof Mitchell said.
This article first appeared on ‘Herald Sun’ on 18 February 2014.