Predicting the appearance of anxiety disorders from adolescence thanks to artificial intelligence

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Anxiety is a common characteristic of all anxiety disorders, the most common psychiatric disorders in adolescence. About one in three teenagers is affected. Some of these disorders – such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder[1] – tend to appear somewhat later in life, or to consolidate in early adulthood. Therefore, the detection of individuals at high risk of developing clinical anxiety (which meets specific diagnostic criteria) is crucial. For the first time, a team led by Inserm researchers Jean-Luc Martinot and Éric Artiges, within the Developmental Trajectories and Psychiatry laboratory (Inserm/ENS Paris-Saclay) and the Borelli Center[2] (CNRS/Paris-Saclay University), researched predictors of the onset of anxiety disorders in adolescence. They followed the evolution of the mental health of a group of teenagers from 14 years old to 23 years old. Thanks to artificial intelligence, they identified the most predictive warning signs in adolescence of the onset of anxiety disorders in these young adults. The results of this study are published in Molecular Psychiatry.

A person suffers from anxiety disorders when she experiences strong and lasting anxiety unrelated to any real danger or threat, which interferes with her normal functioning and daily activities. These disorders, the frequency of which is high in the general population (about 21% of adults would be affected at least once in their lifetime) often begin in childhood or adolescence. Thus, better identification in these age groups would prevent aggravation of symptoms over the course of life.

Previous studies have highlighted the predictive power of artificial intelligence in the context of psychiatric illnesses such as depression or addictions[3]. But no study had previously focused on finding predictors of anxiety disorders.

Researchers in the Developmental Trajectories and Psychiatry laboratory (unit 1299 Inserm) at the Borelli Center (unit 9010 CNRS) have attempted to detect early warning signs, in adolescence, of the onset of anxiety disorders in adulthood.

For this, the scientists followed a group of more than 2,000 European adolescents aged 14 at the time of their inclusion in the Imagen cohort.[4]. The study volunteers completed online questionnaires providing information on their state of psychological health at ages 14, 18 and 23. The follow-up over time of the volunteers made it possible to measure the evolution of the diagnosis of anxiety.

An extensive statistical learning study using an artificial intelligence algorithm then determined whether some of the answers formulated in adolescence (14 years) had an impact on the individual diagnosis of anxiety disorders in adulthood. (18-23 years old).

Three major predictors or warning signs have been identified, the presence of which in adolescence significantly increases the statistical risk of anxiety disorders in adulthood. These are neuroticism, hopelessness, and emotional symptoms.

Neuroticism refers to a persistent tendency to feel negative emotions (fear, sadness, embarrassment, anger, guilt, disgust), poor control of impulses, and maladjustment to stress.

The despair is associated with a low score for responses to questionnaires assessing optimism and self-confidence.

emotional symptoms cover responses to questionnaires indicating symptoms such as “headache/stomachache”; “many worries, often worried”; “often unhappy, dejected or tearful”; “nervous in new situations, easily loses confidence”; “is easily frightened”.

Part of the study also focused on observing the brains of volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examinations. As brain development involves a change in the volume of different brain regions during adolescence, the researchers wanted to identify in these images a possible change in the volume of gray matter that could be predictive of future anxiety disorders.

If imagery did not improve the performance of predicting anxiety disorders as a whole compared to data from questionnaires alone, it could nevertheless make it possible to determine more precisely the type of anxiety disorder to which a person is susceptible. to evolve.

“Our study reveals for the first time that it is possible to predict in an individualized way, from adolescence, the appearance of future anxiety disorders. These identified predictors or warning signs could make it possible to detect people at risk earlier and offer them an appropriate and personalized intervention, while limiting the progression of these pathologies and their consequences on daily life.explains Jean-Luc Martinot, director of research at Inserm and child psychiatrist, co-author of the study.

PR Martinot Anxiety

[1] There are several types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety, panic disorder, specific phobias, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder.

[2] Applied Mathematics Research Center

[3] Whelan R, Watts R, Orr C. et al. Neuropsychosocial profiles of current and future adolescent alcohol misusers. Nature 512, 185-189 (2014).

[4] Imagen is a European cohort study that recruited 2,223 adolescents aged 14 between 2008 and 2011. This cohort is made up of young people from the general population and not patients.

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Predicting the appearance of anxiety disorders from adolescence thanks to artificial intelligence

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