Background. This longitudinal study investigated whether patterns of cortisol and DHEA that precede the onset of an episode of major depression influence time to recovery in a community ascertained sample of adolescents meeting DSM-IV criteria for major depression.
Method. Sixty adolescents aged 12 to 16 at high risk for psychiatric disorders were followed for 24 months. At 12 months, 30 had experienced an episode of major depression and 30 had not. The second follow-up repeated the psychiatric evaluations with all participants completing the Kiddie-SADS Schedule for Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders. Hormone characteristics and self-reports completed at entry (the Mood and Feelings questionnaire and the Ruminations scale) together with intervening undesirable life events in the 12 months prior to onset, were used to determine the best pattern of psychosocial and endocrine features to predict persistent major depression.
Results. Compared to the never depressed (N=30) and remitted adolescents (N=19), persistently depressed cases (N=11) had a raised morning cortisol/DHEA ratio at entry. Only persistent cases had higher levels of self-reported depressive symptoms and ruminations at entry compared to never depressed. There was no difference in exposure to undesirable life events before onset of disorder between remitted and persistent groups. Logistic regression techniques showed that only the cortisol/DHEA ratio predicted persistence.
Conclusions. In community adolescents at high risk for psychiatric disorder persistent major depression may be distinguished from sporadic forms by the 08.00 h salivary cortisol/DHEA ratio prior to onset.