Testing for Depression

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Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. In 2014, 15.7 million people over the age of 18 admitted to experiencing at least one major depressive event during the year. This constitutes 6.7 percent of adults in the United States who experienced depression, and those numbers are growing every year.

Diagnosis and treatment of depression is often subjective, but what if there was a blood test that could diagnose depression and predict the effectiveness of treatment?

An Overview of Depression

Depression is caused by a number of factors: genetic, environmental, psychological or chemical. Many people suffer depression because of changes in the seasons. The transition from summer into autumn and winter can impact your mood as a result of shorter days and less sunshine.

Stress from work or other aspects of life can also induce depression. Your body and mind can only endure so much strain before it begins to affect your mood. Stressful situations can lead to feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest.

Changes in your body’s chemical makeup can also trigger depression. Changes in diet, illness or other physical changes can impact your biochemical system and alter your mood.

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Weight change
  • Insomnia or over-sleep
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless
  • Suicidal thoughts

The presence of these symptoms may indicate depression, but testing for depression can sometimes be difficult. However, researchers are delving into the possibility of genetic evidence for depression, including developing a test to screen for it.

Testing for Depression: Can a Blood Test Diagnose Depression?

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a test that may be able to diagnose depression in adults. Their research involves measuring the levels of nine RNA markers in the blood. RNA communicates with your DNA and processes genetic coding, acting as a messenger and carrying instructions throughout your body.

For their study, they tested 32 patients diagnosed with depression. As a control group, they also tested 32 people who did not suffer from depression. By scanning for the nine specific RNA markers, the researchers were able to demonstrate differences between the patients with depression and the control group.

After eighteen weeks of therapy, the patients who responded to treatment and were no longer depressed showed changes in some of those nine RNA markers, whereas patients who did not respond to treatment showed little to no change.

In addition to identifying depression in the patients, the test also may be promising for showing predisposition toward depression. Of those nine RNA markers the researchers used to identify depression, three continued to show differences between the patients with depression and the control group, even after the patients underwent therapy and were no longer depressed.

What Does this Mean for the Future of Treatment?

This kind of test may eventually become a norm in diagnostics, but it still requires further research. The research at Northwestern University is promising, but requires a broader scope to determine if those nine RNA markers appear consistently in patients who suffer from depression.

In the meantime, such a test may tentatively become part of a doctor’s diagnostic arsenal, along with physical exams, lab tests for thyroid activity and psychological evaluation when attempting to diagnose depression. If this blood test does prove to be able to accurately predict and identify depression, it could help millions discover and overcome their depression more quickly.

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