Category Archives: Mental health

Cortisol and anxiety and depressive problems – results from TRAILS

PredSL PI Catharina Hartman contributed to  a study – that was published today in Psychoneuroendocrinology – on the relationship between anxiety and depressive problems and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis activity (cortisol in the morning). The study was executed in children from the TRAILS study, a general population and clinic-referred cohort.

Anxiety and depressive problems have often been related to higher hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis activity (basal morning cortisol levels and cortisol awakening response [CAR]) and externalizing problems to lower HPA-axis activity. However, associations appear weaker and more inconsistent than initially assumed. Previous studies from TRAILS suggested sex-differences in these relationships and differential associations with specific dimensions of depressive problems in a general population sample of children (10-12 years). Using the TRAILS population sample (n=1604), the authors found most support for higher cortisol (mainly CAR) in relation to depressive problems. However, in general, associations were weak. Therefore, the present results shed doubt on the relevance of single day cortisol measurements for problem behaviors in the milder range. Associations may be stronger in more severe or persistent psychopathology.

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On the threshold of disorder

Today, Julie Karsten defended her PhD thesis entitled ‘On the treshold of disorder. Definition and course of subthreshold depression and subthreshold anxiety’. She was supervised by PredSL PI Catharina Hartman, Brenda Penninx and Willem Nolen. Her thesis resulted in five published papers in high ranking journals.

Subthreshold depression and subthreshold anxiety are common and associated with increased impairment, subjective suffering, and economic costs. Furthermore, individuals
with subthreshold depression or subthreshold anxiety are at elevated risk for developing full-syndromal psychiatric disorders. However, no empirically based operationalization for these subthreshold disorders is available, leading to different outcomes in the literature regarding symptom features, correlates, and course. In this thesis, Karsten empirically operationalized subthreshold, yet clinically significant depression and anxiety leading to functional impairment, on the criterion that mental problems must be impairing to be regarded as clinically significant (the so called “clinical significance criterion of mental disorder”). More information is available from the RuG website.

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