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Test to Identify Teen Mental Illness


A new study conducted by scientists at the University of Cambridge looks for biological risk factors that may identify teens at risk for depression and anxiety.

The researchers found a cognitive biomarker that may identify teens at high risk for developing depression and anxiety.  The marker is a variation of a certain gene: the short form of the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR.

The study included 238 teenagers aged 15 to 18 years old to receive genetic testing and an environmental assessment.  The teens then took a computer test to find out how they process emotional information.  The participants had to decipher whether words were emotionally positive, emotionally negative, or neutral.  For example, blissful is positive, failure is negative, and range is neutral.

The teens who were homozygous (meaning they inherited the same version of a gene from both parents) for the short allele of 5-HTTLPR had considerable difficulty determining the emotion within the words.  This suggests an inability to process emotional information.

These teens also were exposed to periodic family arguments for over half of a year and also witnessed violence between parents before the age of six.

Previous studies have linked a disturbed perception and response to emotions with a much greater risk of depression and anxiety.

The University of Cambridge researchers came to the conclusion that cognitive and emotional processing issues may be an intermediate marker for anxiety and depression in genetically susceptible people who are exposed to early childhood adversities.  Once again, it is a combination of nature and nurture that makes teens vulnerable to developing depression and anxiety.

The researchers believe this test, which can be done on a computer, could be used as an inexpensive tool to screen teens for common mental disorders.  Because this study shows that the cognitive biomarker may appear before the actual symptoms of anxiety and depression, early intervention could be implemented.  Schools could easily use this test as a way to help identify and treat mentally ill teens.

“Whether we succumb to anxiety and depression depends in part on our tendencies to think well or poorly of ourselves at troubled times,” said Ian Goodyer, M.D., principal investigator on the study.  “How it comes about that some people see the ‘glass half full’ and think positively whereas other see the ‘glass half empty’ and think negatively about themselves at times of stress is not known.  The evidence is that both our genes and our early childhood experiences contribute to such personal thinking styles.  Before there are any clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety, this test reveals a deficient ability to efficiently and effectively perceive emotion processes in some teenagers — a biomarker for low resilience which may lead to mental illnesses.”

Works Cited:

Pedersen, T. Biomarker May ID Teens at Risk for Depression, Anxiety. Psych Central. 30 November 2012. Web. 30 November 2012.

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Filed under: Conditions and Disorders, Mental Illness · Tags: 5-HTTLPR, emotional processing, homozygous, identify teens at risk for depression, serotonin transporter gene, serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR, Teen Anxiety, teen depression, Teen depression and anxiety, The University of Cambridge researchers is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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