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First Biomarker Could Help Boys At Risk Of Major Depression


LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - British brain scientists have identified the first biomarker, or biological signpost, for clinical depression and say it could help find boys in particular who are at risk of developing the debilitating mental illness.

In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) journal, the team found that teenage boys who have a combination of depressive symptoms and raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol are up to 14 times more likely to develop major depression than those who show neither trait.

The findings suggest teenagers could in future be screened for such signals, and those at highest risk could be helped to develop the kind of coping strategies and "brain fitness" to help them avoid becoming depressive.

"We're very bad about looking after our mental health, and yet the problems of mental health are extremely common," said Barbara Sahakian, a Cambridge Universityprofessor of clinical neuropsychology who worked on the study.

"Depression is one of the greatest global burdens of disease - it's a much bigger problem than heart disease or cancer and it's much more expensive."

Depression affects around 350 million people worldwide and at its worst can blight patients' lives for decades, affecting their relationships, work and ability to function. It can also lead to suicide, which alone leads to a million deaths a year.