July 15, 2024
clear sky Clear 78 °F

Can we predict which teens are at risk for depression?

Elana Israel, a PhD student in psychology, explores the connection between mood and physiological signs

Clinical psychology PhD candidate Elana Israel Clinical psychology PhD candidate Elana Israel
Clinical psychology PhD candidate Elana Israel Image Credit: Provided photo.

Adolescence is a time rife with biological, mental and social changes as children make the tumultuous transition into adulthood.

At the same time, rates of depression begin to skyrocket. What if there were a way to pinpoint the risk of mental illness early on before lasting symptoms take root? Elana Israel is eager to find out.

A fourth-year student in Binghamton University’s doctoral program in clinical psychology, Israel explores factors that could potentially predict the emergence of depression in adolescents. She recently received a perfect score on her National Research Service Award fellowship application through the National Institute of Mental Health. The fellowship will cover graduate school costs for two years, allowing her to focus on her research.

Originally from Concord, Mass., Israel earned a bachelor’s in psychology at the University of Maryland College Park, followed by a research assistantship at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital. She chose Binghamton University for the opportunity to study with Professor of Psychology Brandon Gibb, she said.

In her grant-funded project, Israel focuses on how neural responses to positive and negative feedback, including monetary rewards versus losses and social acceptance versus rejection, using electroencephalogram (EEG).

She is looking at whether neural markers of depression risk collected in the laboratory translate to actual moods, which are assessed via smartphone surveys outside of the lab. The surveys, sent three times a day for about a week, ask about teens’ emotional states, activities and who they are interacting with.

“That way, we can see whether these neural markers of depression risk predict actual functioning in the real world and actual symptoms related to depression,” she said.

One of the best predictors of future depression risk is having a family history of the disorder. However, even in this high-risk group, the majority will not go on to develop the disorder, she pointed out. Finding specific, modifiable markers of risk that can be targeted in interventions can potentially prevent adolescents from later developing the disorder.

“This type of research is incredibly important and can help bridge the gap between laboratory findings and real-world moods,” Gibb said. “We also hope that it will help clarify the specific role of adolescents’ responses to social feedback and how this may increase risk for depression.”

Posted in: Health, Harpur