Several factors can increase the risk of depression, including genetics. Genetic testing for depression is a concept that may ultimately help with diagnosing and treating the condition.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. Types of depression can vary with different situations and include:

There are several risk factors for depression, including genetics. Identifying risk factors can make it easier to diagnose and treat depression early.

This article discusses how doctors may use genetic testing to diagnose and treat depression.

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Genetic testing is a process that involves looking at body tissues to analyze DNA, proteins, or chromosomes to see if there is a change relating to a genetic condition. The purpose of genetic testing is to inform clinical processes. For example, it may help with screening, diagnosing, and predicting conditions linked with a genetic background. Genetic testing can also help with identifying which medications may benefit individuals.

Genetic testing for depression is a fairly new concept, and researchers are still exploring ways it may help with predicting the risk of developing mental health conditions. Studies are starting to identify genetic markers that relate to these conditions. However, it is not yet clear which gene variations relate to these conditions. Therefore, it is not currently possible to use genetic testing when diagnosing or treating conditions relating to mental health.

More research is necessary before it can become widespread, but knowledge of genetic testing, including how practitioners can apply it in a clinical setting, is rapidly increasing. This form of testing is already useful for managing other conditions, such as cancer.

In this context, genetic testing does not include tests for research purposes.

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In principle, genetic testing can determine the hereditary risk of depression and can identify how individuals may respond to treatment. Using genetic testing to assess effective treatments for different individuals is called pharmacogenomic testing.

However, research has only identified a few genes that predict depression, and these are not the main ones that determine the risk of developing the condition and response to treatment. Because of this, practitioners are not able to use genetic testing to help people with depression yet, but it may become a useful tool in the near future.

For example, a 2022 study of 1,944 participants found that using pharmacogenetic testing had small and inconsistent effects.

Clinical depression is a medical term that usually refers to depression that has had a diagnosis. Depression can include the following characteristics:

  • persistently feeling low
  • difficulty feeling pleasure
  • feeling guilt or worthlessness
  • lack of energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • change in appetite
  • a slowing down of physical or mental activity
  • sleep disturbance
  • suicidal thoughts

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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An examination for diagnosing clinical depression includes using information relating to:

  • symptoms
  • family history
  • social history
  • substance use history

Depression usually results from a combination of causes, which can be genetic, biological, environmental, or psychosocial.

Treatment strategies for depression can include:

  • medications
  • psychotherapy
  • interventional methods such as electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • lifestyle changes

Treatment typically begins with either medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Combining techniques is usually more effective. With particularly severe cases of depression, electroconvulsive treatment is the most effective method.

Types of medication for depression with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval include the following:

  • serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
  • serotonin modulators
  • atypical antidepressants, such as bupropion and mirtazapine
  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • mood stabilizers or antipsychotics

Types of psychotherapy include cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

The following are questions people frequently ask about genetic testing and depression.

Can genetic testing detect depression?

Genetic testing can identify some factors that increase the risk of depression and individual responses to treatment.

How accurate is genetic testing for mental health?

Genetic testing is not currently accurate for mental health conditions, as many of the gene variations that contribute to mental health conditions are still unclear.

Genetic testing in a clinical context refers to using DNA to assess how likely a person is to develop a hereditary condition and how individuals may respond to different treatments. This is already useful when diagnosing and treating certain conditions, such as types of cancer. It may also help with diagnosing and treating mental health conditions, such as depression.

Studies have only identified a few genes that predict depression, so more research is necessary before it can be beneficial. However, research is rapidly increasing, so genetic testing may be a useful tool for depression in the future.