Scientists at Northwestern University recently made a huge breakthrough in the field of science and medicine after developing the first blood test to diagnose major depression in adults. The test measures a patient’s levels of RNA blood markers — RNA molecules being sort of “messengers” in the blood which act according to instructions interpreted by DNA genetic code. Through this test, the scientists have discovered it is possible not only to identify depression by looking at RNA, but also to gain a better understanding of who could benefit the most from different forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

 

The study, which observed differences in blood markers in 64 patients – 32 who had been previously diagnosed with depression and 32 non-depressed controls, all between the ages of 21 and 79 – is groundbreaking, not only in terms of transforming the way we diagnose and treat depression, but also because of what a test like this will do on a social level.

 

Prior to this development, depression had been a solely a matter of the mind and its diagnosis had been largely subjective, based primarily on a patient’s description of their experiences with common symptoms associated with depression, including mood swings, changes in appetite, and loss of sleep. However with no concrete evidence to confirm that a patient is in fact suffering from depression, the risk of misdiagnosis has always been high, particularly because symptoms like those mentioned here can be attributed to a number of other causes and conditions and may not necessarily be strong enough indicators of depression.

 

Possibly even more concerning than the risk of misdiagnosis in patients who fear they may be suffering from depression is the fact that a lack of substantial evidence to diagnose the condition has led to a serious stigma against depression in society, where the common idea is that being depressed is “all in someone’s head.”

 

By reducing the severity of the condition like this, what has been created is a mentality by which somebody who claims to suffer from depression is seen to be simply exaggerating his or her negative emotions, or is giving into those emotions instead of working to overcome them. As a result, depression has become a taboo. It has reached a point where the concept of “being depressed” has become synonymous with being weak, being over-dramatic, or being defeated, none of which is the case.

 

This development of an objective method which can be used to scientifically diagnose depression through physical and concrete markers makes it possible to change and correct a drastically skewed perspective. It has the power to eliminate the myriad of variables associated with diagnosing and identifying depression, and by extension the attitude that society has towards it. The test essentially reinforces and reminds us of the fact that depression is not simply a state of mind but actually a serious medical condition, and it prompts us to focus less on what somebody suffering from depression has to do to overcome it and more on what medicine can do for those suffering to help them overcome it.

 

How do you think this new medical development will change the discourse on depression? Share your thoughts with us below, or tweet me @tamarahoumi