Blood Tests for Depression and Bipolar Disorder

The following research was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Far more funding is needed in the areas of mental health conditions and suicide.

A new blood test can distinguish the severity of a person’s depression and their risk for developing severe depression at a later point. The test can also determine if a person is at risk for developing bipolar disorder. Researchers say the blood test can also assist in tailoring individual options for therapeutic interventions.

At this point in time, our psychiatric experts diagnose and treat mental health conditions by trial and error.  It’s like throwing meds at a person until you see which one makes the mark.  (a dart board, so to speak)

No fault to the psychiatrists. This is all they have to go on at this time.

However, a breakthrough study led by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers sheds new light onto the biological basis of mood disorders, and offers a promising blood test aimed at a medical approach to treatment.  This work builds on previous research into blood biomarkers that track suicidality as well as pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

The team’s work describes the development of a blood test, composed of RNA biomarkers, that can distinguish how severe a patient’s depression is, the risk of them developing severe depression in the future, and the risk of future bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder). The test also describes specific and tailored medication choices for patients.  This is great news.

This is a comprehensive study over a four-year period of time.  From these studies?

Blood biomarkers are emerging as important tools in identifying disorders where, in the past, we have only had subjective self-reporting or reporting from health care professionals. Those subjective reports are not reliable.  Blood tests are.

“Blood biomarkers offer real-world clinical practice advantages. The brain cannot be easily biopsied in live individuals, so we’ve worked hard over the years to identify blood biomarkers for neuropsychiatric disorders,” says Alexander B. Niculescu, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at IU School of Medicine.

Niculescu also noted that mood disorders are underlined by circadian clock genes–the genes that regulate seasonal, day-night and sleep-wake cycles.  That explains why some patients get worse with “seasonal changes, and the sleep alterations that occur in mood disorders.”

A Blood Test For Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Language and Stigma

Have you ever thought about the words used in everyday life that encourage stigma? Have you noticed how media sometimes perpetuates this? Think of some popular TV shows, especially situation comedies, and I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a few examples. Think of phrases like, “What a psycho!”, or “She must be having one of her (eye-roll) schizo moments”, followed by a laugh track. If you really deal with psychosis or schizophrenia, would you ever want anyone to know it, or would you try to hide it? Remember, your condition is followed by a laugh track.

Or think of the misuse of terms such as OCD and anorexia. Being neat and clean is not the same thing as having a real obsessive-compulsive disorder, yet we hear phrases like “My friend is sooo OCD, I’m afraid to walk into his house. I might track in a piece of dirt!” Regarding anorexia, every thin person doesn’t live with anorexia nervosa, yet we hear such things as, “She’s so anorexic!” in reference to a genuinely slender girl with no eating disorder at all. This misuse of terms makes light of the people who are living with real conditions that effect their everyday lives.

Sometimes people reference suicide. They might say, “I was so embarrassed, I thought I would kill myself!” This is extremely insensitive to all those living with real suicidal ideation and to the families of those whose loved one has passed away due to suicide. Yet, we still hear it.

Another term that is sometimes used to describe that a person has died by suicide is ‘committed’. This outdated term that a person ‘commits’ suicide insinuates that the person has committed a crime. This is not the case, yet many still use this term. The correct terminology is ‘died by suicide’.

We now know that suicide is the outcome of a complex set of factors reflected in the neurobiology of a suicidal person. The current data shows that mental disorders are present in over 90 percent of suicides in Western society, and many of these disorders are associated with biological changes. In addition, many other factors correlated with suicidality have well-described biological aspects. These include predisposing personality traits such as aggression and impulsivity, effects of acute and chronic stress, impact of trauma, gender, substance or alcohol abuse, and age.

From this information, there is no question that the language is way overdue for a change. I know of some individuals who say, ‘died by suicide’ due to anxiety and depression. This would seem to be the case for many who have died by suicide.

Not only can correct language reduce stigma, but it has the potential to save lives. Remember what I mentioned about hiding a mental health condition? This is due to shaming and stigma. If the stigma is lifted, many will seek help who would not have otherwise. Many lives can be saved by simply changing the language we use, day in and day out.

A Call for Help – What You Can Do

I have a request for all of you. We are experiencing a crisis when it comes to mental health conditions and suicide. There are so many discoveries coming to surface, but we need much more funding to push forward. According to the NIH data I have researched on funding for all diseases and conditions, it’s obvious that mental health conditions and suicide are far down on the list of what is currently being funded.

This is a shame, considering one in four people suffer from a mental health condition, and considering that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in our young people from ages 10-35, only following accidental deaths. Many reports state that suicide is under reported because of the stigma related to it. If this is the case, which I believe to be so, then suicide numbers are far higher than reported. The fact that our funding for research is so low is flat out inexcusable.

We are already finding biomarkers for mental health conditions, and the research is showing the likelihood of biomarkers for suicide. There have been many studies conducted on genetics, epigenetics, and neuroinflammation, and how these can cause a predisposition for mental health conditions and suicidal ideation. In order to discover treatments for these conditions, we need to conduct more research. In order to do this, we need more funding!

How can you help? Please contact your local legislators to let them know that you are advocating for more funding to go into research for the biological causes of mental health conditions and suicide. With all of us working together, we could make a huge impact. It’s amazing what we can do when we all work together!

Mental Health Overview

Whether we call it a mental health condition/disorder, emotional dysregulation, or mind/brain disease, it’s all the same. And one in a quarter of us suffer from these problems. (I would say, probably more.). Some of us are depressed. Some of us suffer from anxiety. Some have OCD. And some have psychotic events causing dissociation, schizophrenia, borderline personality, and bi-polar disorder. There’s mounting evidence that many of us are suffering from some type of mental health condition.

I’ve been researching the scientific causes for mental health conditions and suicide, and decided to give a general overview of some of the major categories. Here goes:

“Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.” (

I, myself, have suffered from depression and anxiety disorders. I have no doubt there is a genetic link. Several in my family have suffered. You may have a genetic link as well. Research, better treatment, and education are the ways to more successful tomorrows for our loved ones.

For Those of Us Struggling

For those of us struggling with a mental health disorder, or who have a family member with a mental health disorder, or those who have a loved one who has passed away due to suicide, not enough can be said or done to make things right.  The numbers keep rising, yet the research is still painfully slow in finding the causes and treatments for mental health diseases and suicide.

If you don’t suffer from a mental health disorder, count yourself fortunate.  If you do, you are definitely not alone. Unfortunately, our culture has made us feel alone, unusual, and sometimes the target of jokes and bullying. All the while, a great deal of the underlying causes are biological in origin.

Who would make fun of a person dying from heart disease?  Who would laugh at a child suffering from cancer?  No one.  Yet, mental illnesses have never been treated with the same dignity as other diseases.  How shameful our culture is.  How horrific these countless tragedies are to our innocent children, teens, adults, and the aging population.

Stigma and shame have led many to hide and not receive any kind of help.  Would you want to be embarrassed by your peers, cut from a list of job candidates, or denied decent insurance coverage, all because of a mental health condition?  

So hiding becomes a way of life for so many.  Is there any wonder why so many people are suffering?  Is there any wonder why so many people are dying by suicide?

As for those who do seek medical help, some have successful outcomes.  Yet for many, the treatments are, quite frankly, sub-par.  And these individuals are left floundering, jumping from one pill to the next, sometimes taking dangerous cocktails of meds. 

I say these things not to knock the psychiatric community.  They are merely doing their jobs. According to the limited research at hand, they are doing the best they can.  And that’s the point. The research isn’t there, or not nearly enough of it.  This, again, is because mental health conditions have been seen as not as important as ‘real’ medical conditions  Well, they are important, and they “are real”.  They are biological in nature for many, and they have the added layer of being environmental.  Add stigma to the mix, and we have a recipe for disaster.

With all of this said, I do see the tides shifting a bit.  Or maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part.  I hope not.  Organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and others are seeing the need to support research into the biological causes of mental health conditions.  Support groups, such as the Alliance of Hope (AOH) are making a huge impact on those who have lost loved ones to suicide. They are also working hard to remove stigma from mental health disorders and suicide.

We need to all keep working together.  We need to speak out until we are heard so that lives may be enjoyed and so that lives may be saved.