Targeting teen depression

Psychologist Mona Taouk is developing a world-first questionnaire to identify young people at risk of depression and suicide.

Mona taouk inside

Psychologist Mona Taouk is developing a world-first questionnaire to identify young people at risk of depression and suicide.

The 25-year-old doctoral student is the inaugural winner of the Anika Foundation Macquarie Group Foundation PhD Scholarship in Adolescent Depression. She is studying at UNSW's School of Psychiatry, based at the Black Dog Institute.

"Adolescence is such a difficult time when you go through many changes," Mona said.

"The questionnaire I'm developing will identify young people who are suffering depressive symptoms before the condition reaches a clinical stage.

"This is really important because once depression gets to a clinical level there is a greater chance of lifetime prevalence. With early detection young people can be given tools to deal with it."

Mona's PhD research will build on a questionnaire that she first began designing for her Honours thesis at Bond University in 2008. The questionnaire will take approximately 10 minutes to complete, and those who score highly will be referred to a mental health professional.

A PhD was never on the cards for Mona until she read about the Anika Foundation scholarship in a newspaper. She was interviewed by an expert panel in March this year.

"I was over the moon I when I was chosen," she said. "I've been at UNSW for two months now and it's a surreal experience to be working at such an amazing frontier of research. I feel very privileged to be able to work with such incredible experts in the field."

The Anika Foundation was established in memory of Anika Wignall who suffered from depression and took her own life just before her HSC exams in 2004.

The scholarship is significant for both the Foundation and the Faculty of Medicine as it is the first PhD level research to be done on adolescent depression and suicide in Australia.

Mona's supervisors are Professor Phillip Mitchell, head of the School of Psychiatry at UNSW; Dr Michael Dudley, psychiatrist and director of the adolescent service at Prince of Wales Hospital and Chair of Suicide Prevention Australia; and Mr Dusan Hadzi-Pavlovic, a research statistician psychologist in the UNSW School of Psychiatry, who has expertise in the development of questionnaires and rating scales.

For further information contact the Anika Foundation and the Black Dog Institute.

Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 02 9385 8107 | 0424 580 208