Spit test could allow depression screening at school

New Scientist, 17 February 2014

A few globs of spit and a questionnaire could be all that's needed to identify some teenagers who have a high risk of developing depression. That is the upshot of a study finding that teenage boys with elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as depressive symptoms, can be 14 times more likely to become depressed later on.

It's the first biological flag to accurately predict the risk of an individual going on to develop depression, says Barbara Sahakian at the University of Cambridge, one of the study's authors.

The finding could lead to new pharmacological treatments for depression and could change the way schools deal with the condition. Teenagers could be screened for the biomarker and those at risk provided with targeted treatments.

Early predictor

Around the world, depression is one of the leading causes of disability. It takes hold early in life: half of all cases begin by age 14, three-quarters by 24.

"Given that we know more teenagers are getting depressed, we should be looking actively for people who are developing problems and treating them early and effectively," Sahakian says.