Adolescence and young adulthood (age 12-29) is the period of greatest risk for the development of major depressive disorder (MDD). Individuals with a first episode of MDD at this time are at great risk for a recurrent and chronic course of the disorder throughout their lives, and are at risk for significant dysfunction in their academic, occupational, and interpersonal spheres. The goal of the Blue Sky Project is to improve the identification of first-episode depression and to better understand the biological, psychological, and environmental factors that trigger the disorder. We are specifically predicting that particular genetic polymorphisms will interact with a traumatic early life history to increase individuals’ dispositional response to stress through personality and cognitive factors (e.g., Neuroticism, rumination). We are currently bringing participants back for their 18-month follow-up visit. This project has been funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The acute phase of this study is now complete and at the moment we are not accepting any new referrals to this study. We anticipate accepting new referrals in Fall, 2014.
Depression is often associated with profound difficulties in interpersonal functioning and, specifically, a bias to perceive social interactions very negatively. This area of research, in collaboration with Mark Sabbagh, is investigating "theory of mind" as a basic social cognitive skill that might underlie this difficulty. Theory of mind is the everyday ability to make judgments about others' mental states (e.g., emotions, beliefs, desires). We have determined that clinically depressed patients are significantly worse at judging these mental states when compared to non-depressed controls. In direct contrast, people with a vulnerability to clinical depression who are not currently depressed are significantly more accurate in judging others’ mental states compared to non-depressed individuals. We have seen this enhanced theory of mind performance in individuals with mild sub-clinical depression (dysphoria), those with a past depression currently in remission, and those with a maternal history of depression. We have argued that these depression-vulnerable individuals may have a specific motivation to attend to others’ mental states, and we are currently following up on this research to determine the mechanism through which mild depression confers an advantage in mental state decoding. This research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).