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Computer programs might help identify teens at risk for mental disorders

Heather Rudow February 16, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers believe that computer programs might be able to identify the teenagers most at risk for mental disorders such as anxiety and mood disorders by distinguishing between the brain scans of healthy and at-risk adolescents.

“We have a technique which shows enormous potential to help us identify which adolescents are at true risk of developing anxiety and mood disorders, especially where there is limited clinical or genetic information,” said researcher Janaina Mourão-Miranda.

The first signs of mental illness usually emerge in early adulthood or adolescence, but it is difficult to determine which teens will develop these disorders, as there are no known biological indicators.

“Anxiety and mood disorders can have a devastating effect on the individuals concerned and on their families and friends,” said researcher Mary Phillips. “If we are able to identify those individuals at greatest risk early on, we can offer early and appropriate interventions to delay, or even prevent, onset of these terrible conditions.”

“Researchers looked at 16 healthy adolescents who each had a bipolar parent, as well as 16 healthy adolescents whose parents had no history of psychiatric illness. While the volunteers took part in two tasks in which they had to determine the gender of pairs of faces with emotional expressions — happy and neutral or fearful and neutral — they had their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging. … In three out of four cases, the computer program accurately identified the teen who belonged to either the low-risk or high-risk group. Follow-up interviews 12 months to 45 months later showed that those teens identified as high-risk often did develop mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

The researchers found that the scans were most effective when the participants were presented with neutral faces.

“Focusing on the brain’s response to neutral faces could help us diagnose the risk of mental disorders,” Mourão-Miranda told LiveScience. “This might not only help us diagnose neurological and psychiatric disorders in general, but also determine the course they take and how they might respond to treatment.”

Source: LiveScience

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter.

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