Diagnosing depression may include a simple blood test in the future, according to new research published Tuesday. In an article in International Business Times, researchers claimed to have developed a blood test that will identify markers for depression in teenagers that may lead to better treatment for the condition.
Currently, doctors must rely on patients telling them about the symptoms of depression, and it is often difficult to differentiate among the different types of depression through patient reports. Using a diagnostic blood test would be more accurate, and would also allow for more personalized treatment.
Study author, Dr. Eva Redei, said, "Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument. 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. Redei said, "These 11 genes are probably the tip of the iceberg because depression is such a complex illness. It clearly indicates we can diagnose from blood and create a blood diagnosis test for depression."
Some doctors remain skeptical. The study only examined 28 volunteers, and some researchers believe a wider population sample must be used. Depression affects almost 1% of children under age 12, but as these children enter their teenage years, the number jumps to 25%. Depression that sets in in the teenage years has a poorer prognosis than depression that sets in during adulthood. Having depression as a teenager increases the risk for substance abuse, suicide, and physical illness.
Being able to better diagnose depression could mean more people getting treatment. As far as teens are concerned, it could mean them getting treatment sooner, as well. Some hope this study will also reduce the stigma associated with depression.
Treatment for depression often includes a combination of medication and therapy. Many people view the disease as a defect, and do not seek treatment for fear that people will consider them "broken." A 2009 British poll found that 92% of the population thinks being diagnosed with a mental illness would damage their career, and 56% said they would not employ a person with a history of mental illness.
Redei said, "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. Once you can objectively diagnose depression as you would hypertension or diabetes, the stigma will likely disappear."