Predicting whether individuals are at an increased risk for depression or anxiety after stressful events can be done from a brain region that was newly discovered by a team of researchers.
The study conducted at Duke University reports a correlation between how a college student's brain responds to photos of angry or fearful faces and their ability to recover from breakups or financial emergencies months or years in the future.
Dr. Johnna Swartz, a psychology and neuroscience postdoctoral associate at Duke University, said that they found that stronger responses of the amygdala predict greater symptoms of depression and anxiety in response to stress as much as 1 to 4 years in the future.
The investigators measured amygdala activity in 750 college students aged 18 to 22 years old, all of whom said they were free of depression or anxiety disorders at the start of the study. After the imaging scans, all participants were contacted by e-mail every three months and invited to complete a short online survey of their current mood and experience of stressful life events. About 350 students filled out a follow-up survey; of these, more than half completed an assessment at least one year after scanning.
Cognitive neuroscientist and senior author Dr. Ahmad Hariri, said that it is clear that treating mental illness is generally ineffective and, as with other branches of medicine, that the best strategy is to prevent illness in the first place and their findings contribute to ongoing efforts to develop strategies for preventing mental illness by identifying a measure of brain function that distinguishes those at greatest risk before they become ill.
The study is published in the Cell Press journal Neuron.