© 2023 by EVA-Edinburgh.com

In search of vulnerability mechanisms for adolescent depression has the working title of 'What influences our mood?'. This research project examines adolescents' mood to see if we can identify factors that will help us understand why some young people experience low mood more often than others.


Depression is a highly prevalent illness that often recurs over the lifetime, with earlier onset being predictive of episode length and severity. Previous research has highlighted certain markers to be salient predictors, such as neuroticism, cognitive biases, and rumination, so this work examines such markers alongside other potential factors. The overall aim is to identify markers for adolescent depression in order to predict mood over time; this would lead to being able to identify those at risk to ensure they receive early intervention. 

The project is a collaboration between Clinical Psychology (involving Dr Stella Chan and Dr Elaine Gray) and Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh (involving Dr Heather Whalley, Dr Toni Clarke, and Prof Andrew McIntosh). The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology.


We are working with young people aged 12-18 and assessing their mood, thinking styles, personality traits (amongst many other factors) and biological functions, including genetic factors (DNA methylation to measure epigenetic age), sleep quality (using actiwatches), and hair cortisol (the so-called stress hormone). Participants will be asked to complete the mood questionnaires twice more in the following two years. NHS data linkage is sought to examine the predictivity of these measures over the longer term. It is possible that these factors may help us explain health and mental health outcomes in the future, so we will also examine whether these factors can predict mood over time. 

What is involved for participants?

1. Participants complete three short mood questionnaires in school. These questionnaires are the only compulsory part of the project, for those who wish to take part. 

2. Participants are asked for a sample of hair in order to measure cortisol (the so-called stress hormone) levels in the hair over the past few months. This is to see whether stress relates to mood. Hair samples will be analysed at the Queen’s Medical Research Institute. Biological samples are not retained after they have been processed.

3.  Participants are asked to give a saliva sample, which involves spitting into a tube for a few minutes (see photos below). This is to examine DNA methylation (to measure epigenetic age). This is to see whether DNA information relates to mood. Saliva samples will be analysed at the Wellcome Trust Building at Western General Hospital. Biological samples are not retained after they have been processed.








4.  Participants are asked to wear an actiwatch (see photo below) - this is a wristwatch that measures sleep quality. This is to see whether sleep quality relates to mood.










5.  Participants are asked to complete some more questionnaires online. These questionnaires are to measure different factors thought to be linked to mood, such as resilience, neuroticism, and rumination, amongst several others. This is to see whether these factors relate to mood.


6. Participants are asked whether they give permission for their NHS records to be accessed in the future to see if we can link the outcomes of this study to their health in the future (such as diagnoses or medications related to mood). NHS PBPP approval will be sought for this. No information from this study will be shared with the NHS. 

7. Participants are contacted 6 and 18 months after the first part of the study and asked to repeat three mood questionnaires again, so we can see how participants' mood has changed over time. 

This research has been approved by the Research Ethics Committee at the School of Health in Social Science and the Local Education Authorities of the schools taking part in the project. The work adheres to GDPR guidelines. 

All the information collected from participants is kept confidential and will not be shared with anyone. Only the members of the research team have access to the data. Data is anonymised and stored against participant codes only, with only one separate file to link participant codes to participant names. Participant names and all other identifying information is kept separate. All the information collected is stored securely in encrypted files on the University of Edinburgh's network. Data will be reviewed for destruction every five years and once the study is complete only an anonymised master copy of the data will exist in University archives. The findings of this study may be written up and may be published in academic journals or presented at conferences, but names and all other identifying information will never be disclosed.

If you have any questions please contact Elaine in the first instance, or Stella or Heather if you wish to contact someone else.


Overview of project stages:

Project development: February 2018-May 2018 (complete)

Data collection 1 in schools and online: June 2018-July 2019 (complete)

Data analysis of data collection 1: from July 2018 (ongoing).

Data collection 2 (6-month follow up): December 2018-December 2019 (ongoing).

Data collection 3 (18-month follow up): December 2019-December 2020.

Data collection 4: data linkage with NHS records (TBC).



Outcomes from the study will posted on this website shortly.