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Depression could be diagnosed before onset, study suggests

Mental health (generic)
Image caption Researchers said it could help them to predict who will develop mental illness

Healthy people at risk of depression could be diagnosed and treated before they become ill, according to scientists at Edinburgh University.

They found that looking at family history and brain activity could help to predict who is likely to become ill.

The experts studied groups of people with and without a family history of depression.

They were scanned again two years later and a fifth of the at-risk group had developed major depression.

The scientists found that, even while healthy, those with a family history of depression had increased activity in the part of the brain that regulates mood, called the insula.

Early medical intervention

The study builds on previous research which has shown the insula is involved in the onset of mood disorders.

Researchers said this could help them to predict who will develop mental illness, and who could benefit from early medical intervention.

Dr Heather Whalley, of Edinburgh University's division of psychiatry, said: "These findings advance our understanding of the biological processes involved in the development of mood disorders.

"They show that increased activation in this part of the brain differentiates individuals at high risk of bipolar disorder who later develop depression from healthy people and those at familial risk who remain well."

The study, published in the PLOS ONE online journal, was funded by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship and The Health Foundation.

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