A simple blood test may help scientists objectively diagnose depression in teens and young adults, reported WebMD.
“The bottom line is that a test is possible from blood that can differentiate teens with major depression from those who do not have it,” scientist Eva Redei, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the health website.
The findings, published in Translational Psychiatry, are still in the early stages.
Currently, doctors determine whether a patient is depressed through symptoms, such as sadness for extended periods of time, withdrawal from friends and social activities, and a sudden negative academic or other performance. Challenges with diagnosis arise because teens often communicate poorly, Redei said. “This is the generation, the age group that needs the most help,” Redei told WebMD.
While 1 percent of children under age 12 suffer from major depression, according to Redei, that number rises to about 25 percent by late teens or early adulthood. The rate is worse for American Indian and Alaska Native people at 1.7 times higher than the United States all-races rate, according to the Indian Health Service.
When depression goes untreated in teens, their risk of substance abuse, suicide, physical illness and other issues significantly increases, Redei told WebMD.
The research team measured 26 blood biomarkers—or indicators that influence the activity of genes related to depression—in 14 teens with major depression who were untreated and 14 teens who were not depressed. Research is still preliminary, given the small number of participants. Also blood markers for depression vary greatly within populations, Dr. Alexander B. Niculescu III, associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at Indiana University School of Medicine, told WebMD.