Stop the Guessing Game - Genetic Testing for Mental Health Treatment

For years I couldn't put a finger on it. I knew I was moody. I could be difficult to deal with, even when I wasn't trying to be. Knew that it wasn't "normal" to be ready to conquer the world one day, and unable to get out of bed the next. I sometimes felt like I was watching someone else's life, rooting for her, terrified for her, and unable to stop her from wrecking everything I'd worked so hard for.

That was 20 years ago. And it's still a bit of a carnival ride. No, not the fun kind...the kind where you're not sure all the bolts are properly secured, so any second you could go flying off and land in a giant vat of fried Twinkies.

The problem always seemed to be the question of what, exactly, was wrong with me. And then, of course, the bigger question: What could I do to get better?

When I learned that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the US are currently battling some form of mental illness, I began to wonder how other people are coping with their mental illness. Are they on a similar merry-go-round, hanging on for dear life? Or do they have everything figured out, having found the perfect medication, therapy or holistic form of healing that I hoped for?

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: For years, I was prescribed one medication after another. I would try one, hope rising where there was usually confusion, only to find it frustratingly ineffective. And as the medications failed me, I began to identify myself as a failure, convincing myself this was as good as it was gonna get.

So when my doctor told me about an easy swab test that compares a person’s genetic makeup (or genotype) against all psych meds, allowing a personalized approach to treatment, I was beyond excited to try it. As it turns out, it wasn’t just me--many people respond poorly to mental health medication because everyone's body is different, partially based upon on their individual genetic DNA. The results of my Genecept Assay® test found--among other information--that only a handful of medications would work with my specific genetic makeup. This narrowed my treatment options significantly. Which, oddly enough, opened up a whole world of new possibilities in terms of finally getting better.

I am not alone. James Crawford, a resident of Washington D.C., who had battled depression most of his life. And then one day, his psychiatrist recommended a genetic test. Its results helped guide his mental health treatment, and he claims it saved his life. He talks about his story on this NewsChannel 8 interview in Washington, D.C.

The way the test works is by looking at key genes in our body's DNA that affects how we respond to medication. A doctor receives more information about the potential effectiveness of a particular drug before the patient tries it, potentially helping to save the frustration of waiting to see if things improve or going back to square one with a different medication. This is huge to those who have ridden the medication "roller coaster." It means the difference between years of trial and error and being on a much faster track to healing, coping, and living a life of real hope and fulfillment.

Not only that, but this sort of blind roulette approach to treatment isn’t cheap. When people’s medications don’t work, their health care costs rise by more than $5,188 annually. And trust me, when a person is grappling with mental health issues, the last thing he or she needs is to stress about paying more for a treatment that might not even work.

So in that regard, the cost comparison of the test offered by the company I used, Genomind, is low. Several other companies offer the test, and most insurance companies cover part or all of the cost. Some even offer financial assistance to qualified patients.

The practice of testing patients before determining the best treatment plan is becoming more widespread. As they become, more common more studies will be available revealing the validity of genetic testing. And while nothing is 100% foolproof, the successful track record of genetic testing gives people who have mental illness a new way to approach what has too often been a trial and error guessing game.

The issue becomes whether a patient's doctor will order the test. Because the testing is relatively new in terms of its application, many doctors are either waiting for more clinical studies before deciding to order the test or in my experience, haven't heard of the test at all. Perhaps doctors should consider this test as a powerful tool to guide them in developing the most effective individualized treatment plan. This is especially true if previous medications have had little or no effect on a patient's mental illness.

Dr. Jay Lombard, Genomind Chief Science Officer, points out in his TEDx Talk, “Psychiatry is in dire need of objective diagnostic markers to help with diagnosis.”

A breakthrough like this one could help millions of people be proactive in their battles with mental health issues, brain disorders, and other illnesses.

And for a person like me who has fought mental health issues for years, this test offers a new kind of hope. It can mean getting better sooner, faster, and freeing up precious time to enjoy life with a healthy, clear perspective.

Angela Swanson is driven to be the voice for those who may not be empowered to speak for themselves, raising awareness of mental health issues, and challenging public opinions. She knows what it means to be in pain, to overcome, to be human, thus shaping her ideas of reform, recovery and allowed her to be a disability and mental health advocate. She is the founder and editor of Balanced Minds, an online magazine. It promotes the art of being human and living a balanced life while managing stress, anxiety, depression, mania with self-care, recovery, confidence, and advocacy.

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