Diagnosing depression may soon include a simple blood test, according to research published Tuesday. new study. Researchers developed a blood test to identify markers for depression in teenagers that maylead to better treatments and lessen the stigma surrounding the condition.
Doctors currently rely on patients coming forward with symptoms to diagnose depression. However, differentiating between types of depression can be difficult without an objective diagnosis, researchers said. Instead, using a diagnostic blood test could allow for more personalized treatment.
Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument, Dr. Eva Redei, study author and professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University, said in a statement. It's like treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes exactly the same way. We need to do better.
Previous studies identified 26 potential genetic markers for depression in rats. Redei and her team found 11 similar markers in depressed teens that they did not find in the control group.
These 11 genes are probably the tip of the iceberg because depression is a complex illness, Redei said in a statement. But it's an entree into a much bigger phenomenon that has to be explored. It clearly indicates we can diagnose from blood and create a blood diagnosis test for depression.
Some doctors remain skeptical of the findings since the study examined only 28 volunteers. Skeptics said research needs to show whether the markers can test a wider population and whether the markers are present in adults as well before the test can be considered viable.
I think people are looking for a magic bullet, a single answer, Dr. Carol Bernstein, an associate professor of psychiatry at New York University, told ABC News. But these disorders are much too complicated.
One in 20 Americans over the age of 12 reported feeling symptoms of depression between 2005 and 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include hopelessness, feeling like a failure, poor appetite and lack of interest in activities.
Depression affects approximately 1 percent of children under the age of 12, researchers said. But as children enter their teenage years, depression affects almost 25 percent. Depression that sets in during the teenage years has a poorer prognosis than depression that sets in in adulthood, increasing the risk of substance abuse, suicide and physical illness, researchers said.
Being able to diagnose depression with a blood test could mean more people getting treatment. None of the teens who were diagnosed with depression over the course of the study opted for treatment, most likely due to the stigma that comes with it, Redei said.
Depression is treated through a combination of medication and therapy, but many people see the disease as a defect and think it will make people view them as broken, Dr. Jonathan Rottenberg, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, said in a Psychology Today blog post.
A 2009 British poll found that 92 percent of the population thinks being diagnosed with a mental illness would damage their career, and 56 percent said they would not employ a person with a history of mental illness.
Everybody, including parents, are wary of treatment, and there remains a social stigma around depression, which in the peer-pressured world of teenagers is even more devastating, Redei said in a statement. Once you can objectively diagnose depression as you would hypertension or diabetes, the stigma will likely disappear.
The journal Translational Psychiatry published the study on Tuesday.