Blood test shows promise for depression diagnosis in teens

Blood test shows promise for depression diagnosis in teens

By Charlotte Fantelli

Diagnosing depression is a specialist area, requiring a patient to accurately convey symptoms and an expert correctly interpretting them. A process some would call subjective, especially in teens, whose emotional state can fluctuate quite naturally during this period of their lives.

A promising breakthrough has been made in the form of the first ever blood test to help diagnose major depression in teens. Developed by a scientist from Northwestern Medicine, the test could sit alongside existing diagnostic tests to allow for a more 'objective' diagnosis.

It is reported that apart from being the first test of its type to identify major depression, it is also the first to identify subtypes of depression.  It is believed to have the capability to distinguish between teens with major depression and those who have co-morbid major depression and anxiety disorder, by measuring a specific set of genetic markers found in the blood of the patient.

The benefits of such a tool are clear, not only could it aid diagnosis, it could also help identify treatment options, and, on a social level, assist the patient come to terms with the condition as a medical diagnosis.  

Gavin Hall, a depression sufferer, tells Mental Healthy 'I was diagnosed with depression in my teens and I saw it as a failing in me, if I had been able to have a blood test, like people do for diabetes or vitamin deficiencies, I would have felt like it was a condition, not a weakness. I think this could go a long way to help the patient.' 

Between 2-4% of pre-adolescent children are estimated to have major depressive disorder, but this figure rises to between 10-20% by the late teens. This is a very vulnerable age, and the accurate diagnosis of depression can make a big difference, with rapid detection and correct treatment meaning a patient far more likely to make a swift recovery.

The lead researcher, Eva Redei, a professor psychiatry and behavioural science at Northwestern University said ‘Right now depression is treated with a blunt instrument.  It’s like treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes the same way.  We need to do better for these kids.’

She added ‘This is the first significant step for us to understand which treatment will be most effective for an individual patient.  Without an objective diagnosis, it’s very difficult to make that assessment.  The early diagnosis and specific classification of early major depression could lead to a larger repertoire of more effective treatments and enhanced individualised care.’

For more information on this research please see Northwestern University and the report in Science Daily.

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