Deciding whether your teenager is heading towards depression, or that you are just being a paranoid parent, is a tough one. Is staying locked in a darkened bedroom for days on end 'normal'? Is only eating during a midnight fridge raid 'normal'? Is evidence of a serious disruption of sense of smell (trainers that could run on their own, excessive use of cheap aftershave) 'normal'? Are the mood swings and risk taking 'normal'?
Teenage brains are still being wired
Research scientists now know that it takes 25 years for the brain to be fully 'wired' and that during adolescence it is getting reorganized in a big way. There are major structural and chemical changes that are going on and for some unfortunate teenagers, the balance skews and can lead to depression. Twenty years ago teen depression was unheard of, now teenagers are the fastest growing group with depression.
Cortisol Test predicts depression
A new study carried out at Cambridge University has demonstrated that teen depression can be predicted earlier and before any clear visible signs are apparent by a simple saliva cortisol test. The Cambridge group measured the morning levels of cortisol and recorded any pre-clinical symptoms in 1,900 teenagers aged between 13 and 18. Their results showed that teenage boys who had high levels of cortisol were 14 times more likely to go on and develop depression over the next three years than those with low cortisol levels. A simple early morning cortisol saliva test could therefore help spot the risk of depression before it fully develops. Most of the parents of today's teenagers will not have a lot of experience of teen depression because it just wasn't an issue when they were young but studies show that half of the cases of depression arise by the age of 14. The cortisol test could be just what parents need to spot the warning signs and help teenagers deal with depression as early as possible.
See the Patient QI depression strategy for ideas on therapies that help patients with depression.