Lifestyle & Belief

Depression and anxiety can be spotted in children with new test


Cambridge University researchers have created a test that can help pre-screen children for depression and anxiety.


Oli Scarff

Depression and anxiety could be spotted in children with just a simple test.

Researchers at Cambridge University created a screening test for 11 and 12-year-olds that could help alert doctors to early warning signs of depression and anxiety.

The Chicago Tribune reported that in early studies children who did badly on the test were between two and eight times more likely to suffer symptoms of depression a year later.

"The more errors made, the greater the risk," said study author Ian Goodyer, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, reported the Guardian.

"We do not know how good a predictor this test is, but this study provides sufficient validity to test it in the field," said Goodyer.

It is believed that 10 percent of children between five and 16 in the UK have some mental disorder and that that period is important in the development of problems as an adult.

The Chicago Tribune said the researchers used genetic testing to show that genes and upbringing both had a hand in creating mental health risks in children.

Those with a certain gene that helps regulate seratonin and trouble with their parents at home did particularly poorly on the test when it came to evaluating their own emotions.

Though genetic tests cannot be given to all children, the researchers are hoping the new computer test will be a "biomarker" that can attain similar results.

"The evidence is that both our genes and our early childhood experiences contribute," said Goodyer, reported the Tribune.

"Before there are any clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety, this test reveals a deficient ability to ... perceive emotion processes ... which may lead to mental illnesses."

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.