Harvard Health Letter

Discovery may lessen depression stigma

New techniques for diagnosing depression may make it easier to tell if you have the condition. They may also help change perceptions about the disorder. Two new studies indicate that depression is a physiological illness, detectable in the blood. In April, researchers at Northwestern University found they could use a blood test to diagnose depression in teenagers. A few months earlier, Harvard-affiliated researchers reported a similar finding in adults. Their blood test identified nine biomarkers associated with depression, and correctly identified people with depression 91% of the time.

"The test needs more stringent validation before it will be ready to be used in medical offices. Still, it appears that these results are promising," says Dr. Gustavo Kinrys, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and one of the authors of the study.

While depression blood tests aren't yet available, the studies are increasing awareness that the condition has a physiological basis. That's important, since many people mischaracterize depression as a problem of the mind. "The recognition that depression is a physiological illness, one that can be controlled by medicines—just like diabetes or high cholesterol—will help decrease its stigma," says Dr. Kinrys.

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