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July 19, 2019

How Genetic Testing Affects Mental Health

With the power to influence how you think, feel, and act, a mental health disorder can have a major impact on how you relate to others, how well you cope day to day, and how easily you earn a living, among other things.

If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, clinical depression, or any other serious mental health condition, you may be wondering what exactly caused it to emerge in the first place, and — more critically — if there’s anything you can do to ensure that your treatment plan is as targeted as possible from the start.

Although it would certainly be helpful if researchers could identify any underlying factors that lead to the development of a specific mental health disorder, reality is far more complex. Most forms of mental illness appear to be caused by a combination of factors, ranging from biological problems and environmental issues to psychological effects and genetic influences.

But even as a growing body of evidence suggests that specific genes and gene variations are linked to mental illness, continuing advances in DNA screening technology have made it possible to look for these unique biomarkers as well as the biomarkers that indicate how your body may process certain types of medication.

Let’s explore how genetic testing is used in mental health care, and how it can benefit you.

Genetic testing basics

Although there are no specific lab tests that can definitively diagnose mental health conditions— just as there are no simple tests that determine which medication would be most beneficial to a particular person — genetic testing can help take some of the guesswork out of mental health care.

Here at Advanced Psychiatry Associates, our team takes a multifaceted approach to diagnosing mental health conditions that combines information about your life, family history, and personal health history with data gleaned from relevant medical screenings, including genetic testing. Taken as a whole, these pieces can help us reach a definitive diagnosis or at least rule out certain possibilities.

In addition to helping us pinpoint the nature of your specific mental health condition, genetic testing is a practical way to help ensure you receive the treatment that’s best for you as quickly as possible, instead of spending precious time finding the right medication through blind trial and error.

Traditionally, finding the right pharmaceutical treatment approach requires a certain amount of experimentation to determine which medication your body metabolizes properly so that it works well for you with minimal side effects.

Genetic testing is done by taking a swab of cells from the inside of your cheek and sending them off to a laboratory that analyzes your DNA for the unique biomarkers associated with certain mental health disorders, as well as the biomarkers that indicate how well your body may process common medications.

Genetic testing benefits

Although the information gleaned through genetic testing shouldn’t be overstated — meaning it must be applied carefully and in context — knowing detailed information about your genetic code and genetic expression does give us a way to more accurately and efficiently identify the medicines that are most likely to work best for you.

That’s because, when it comes to psychiatric medications and dosages, one size doesn’t fit all. Having a more accurate idea of which medication selection your body may respond best to helps you avoid the long and often challenging process of experimenting with various medications and dosages. It also allows you to skip the medications that are more likely to cause you to experience negative side effects and adverse drug reactions.

In short, you can think of genetic testing as an ideal opportunity to achieve personalized medicine at the highest level. And by using your unique genetic profile to determine the best treatments for you, you’re more likely to respond as desired and get better faster.

Genetic testing results

After it receives and processes your DNA sample, the lab provides a detailed report outlining any genetic markers you may have for specific mental health disorders as well as how your body is likely to respond to dozens of psychiatric medications.

When taken in context with your symptoms, overall health history, and other pertinent factors, this information gives you the power to make a more informed decision about your treatment plan.

Besides increasing the likelihood that you’ll receive an accurate diagnosis the first time around, genetic testing can help you understand how likely you are to respond positively to the most common medication treatments used to treat clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and other forms of mental illness.

It also gives you insight into which medications may require higher or lower dosages to be safe and effective, which ones should be used with caution, and which are likely to cause adverse side effects.

To learn more about genetic testing and find out how it can help you, contact a mental health professional atone of our offices today, or use our easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with one of our mental health experts any time.