depressionResearchers are developing a test that can accurately diagnose depression and is free from cultural bias. 

A team from the University of East London (UEL), are developing a brain scan that can recognise signs of depression in patients. Currently, depression – and all psychiatric disorders – are diagnosed based on what a patient and their family shares in an interview. However, this method has problems as some people may not recognise that they have depression, or can downplay their symptoms. In addition, there can be an under-diagnosis of depression in minority groups due to cultural beliefs, clinical presentation or access to culturally suitable care.

Professor Cynthia Fu from UEL said: “We and others have found that the pattern of brain activity in response to images of sad faces could accurately diagnose depression.”

But there was a problem that had to be overcome before this test could be widely used. “Our previous study showed that we could diagnose depression based on neuroimaging scans,” explained Professor Fu. “But most of the participants were of white ethnicity.

“There is a social bias between ethnicities – what has been called an 'other race effect' or 'other race bias'. There are regional brain activations associated with this 'bias'. Also, there are some studies which have shown some differences in brain regions between different ethnicities. If that is the case, the pattern of brain activations could be different between ethnicities, and so this would not be a reliable measure.

“Our latest study is a first step which shows that we are able to diagnose depression from a brain scan for individuals from different ethnicities. This is an important step in developing objective measures to help us to diagnose depression.”

The research is published in BJPsych Open. To read the full paper, click here