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Whether individual differences in cortisol contribute to subsequent major depressive disorder (MDD) is unknown.
To determine whether premorbid levels of salivary cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) were associated with subsequent MDD and how these related to psychosocial factors known to increase the risk for MDD.
Adult women (n=116) were recruited from general practices. None was currently depressed; 83 were ‘psychosocially vulnerable’ to MDD, 33 were not. Salivary steroids (cortisol and DHEA at 08.00 h and 20.00 h), recent life events, current mood and social support were assessed at entry. Onset of MDD was recorded during 13 months' follow-up.
There were no associations between salivary cortisol or DHEA and recent life events or vulnerability. Twenty-eight onsets of MDD occurred during the follow-up period. This was associated with: severe adverse life events and difficulties during the follow-up period; mean morning cortisol levels at entry; and the presence of any of three vulnerability factors.
Individual differences in morning salivary cortisol levels may represent an independent risk factor for subsequent MDD. The origin of these differences in cortisol is not yet understood.
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