I’ve written about mental health a few times now, generally to share information I’ve recently learned. This post only differs from those in that I haven’t recently learned about genetic testing for mental health.
Jim credits the genetic test he took about 9 years ago with changing his life. The one I took about 2.5 years ago wasn’t quite as influential, but it saved me from the medication equivalent of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Neither Jim nor I have done much research recently on the genetic tests we took. So, I won’t attempt to give you much in the way of up-to-date information. Instead, I want to tell you about what we each got out of taking the tests. I hope this gives you enough information to be able to talk to your doctor about getting a test done, especially if your current treatment isn’t getting you the results you want.
There are at least two types of medical genetic tests—meaning they aren’t offered for ancestry or generic information like 23 and Me or Ancestry.com. One type is a diagnostic tool, the other is more of a “decision support” tool.
Jim took the diagnostic test offered by Genomind. At the time he took it, the test was focused on the biological underpinnings of depression. The test looked for 15—ish, Jim isn’t positive it was 15—different mutations known to correlate with depression.
The most important result was the clear proof that the mental health issues he had been dealing with for so long weren’t his fault. He wasn’t to blame; he’d been saddled with a bad genetic hand.
On top of that load lifted from his shoulders, the clear results helped narrow down the pool of medication options to ones that would actually help. He and his psychiatrist were no longer inexpertly throwing darts at a board and hoping they’d hit something. His psychiatrist could make informed decisions to pick medications that would target the condition and not just the symptoms.
In the intervening years, Genomind’s test has matured quite a bit. They now test 26 genes and also offer the decision support information that I got in my test. They have several sample reports available on their website, including the full report I downloaded on 6/4/23.
I took the decision support—pharmacogenomic—test offered by GeneSight. It didn’t give me information about genetic mutations or provide data that would help diagnose mental illness. Instead, it provides information on how your genes may affect your response to medications. The result report provided a listing of common medications used for treatment of mental illnesses. These medications were sorted into groupings by the likelihood that they would cause negative side effects based on my genetic makeup.
The green group requires no additional monitoring, you can use as directed. The yellow group has moderate gene-drug interactions, but, if nothing in the green group worked, could be tried with some extra monitoring. The red group should be avoided at all costs, as there are significant gene-drug interactions. The gray group has no proven genetic interactions. I downloaded a sample report from GeneSight’s website on 6/4/23.
I was especially thankful to have requested the test when it turned out the first medication my psychiatrist planned to try me on was in my red group. This information, while not life-changing for me in the way Jim’s was, could be just as important to some. I’ve heard from multiple people that trying to find the right medicine can be as hard as, or harder than, getting a diagnosis.
In my opinion, it’s at least worth mentioning to your doctor if you aren’t happy with your current treatment. You have nothing to lose and could gain so much. There is, of course, never any guarantee. You could find out that you’re on “green” medicines or that you’re taking what you need to. But, like Jim and me, you could see significant benefits.
Have you taken one of the genetic tests for mental illness? Did it help you? If you haven’t, are you interested in it? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.