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Approved Research

How do social factors and brain structure relate to depression and anxiety?

Principal Investigator: Miss Sasha Johns
Approved Research ID: 66948
Approval date: April 20th 2021

Lay summary

This project is part of a 3-year PhD project that aims to examine how individuals' brain structure and socioeconomic factors combine to predict depression and anxiety.

Poor mental health is a significant issue within the UK and worldwide. According to the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in 2014, around 1 in 6 adults surveyed in England met the criteria for a common mental health disorder. In addition to the negative impact on the individual, mental health problems have substantial societal and economic implications, with the annual cost in England estimated at around £77 billion.

Research has shown that depression and anxiety are associated with abnormal brain structure. There is also evidence that social factors have a strong influence on mental health issues. Finally, some research suggests that social factors are associated with differences in brain structure. There is, however, limited research investigating the relationships between depression and anxiety, social factors and brain structure. There is some evidence of impaired brain development following psychosocial deprivation leading to depression and anxiety, suggesting the need to consider the interaction between all three factors, in particular how social factors and brain structure may combine to predict depression and anxiety.

This project would have important implications for policy aiming to reduce health inequalities. It will also inform research involved in the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety. Given that prevention programmes have already been successful in reducing depression in children following abuse, and adults following conflicts/ disasters, it seems logical that prevention programmes may be utilised for individuals at risk of depression and anxiety, due to their socioeconomic status for example.