When you’re feeling unwell, a simple blood test can help find the cause of illness in many cases. Blood tests can help doctors diagnose many conditions, such as heart disease, anemia and diabetes.
But what if doctors could use a blood test to diagnose mental illnesses as well, such as depression?
Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have found that a blood test could actually be used to help diagnose depression.
Although this research is still in the beginning stages, researchers found an association between depression and the length of time that it takes serotonin to enter blood platelets through use of the serotonin transporter (SERT), according to an article on the university’s website.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is commonly linked to happiness, and low levels tend to indicate depression.
Researchers were able to determine the above association by using “pharmacological investigations” and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain.
Although this study only involves the potential diagnosis of depression through a blood test, it brings up the thought that other mental disorders could be diagnosed in a similar way.
Nicole Beurkens, a licensed psychologist as well as the founder and executive director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center, said in an email that there are too many different causes for depression and other mental disorders to be able to use a single blood test to diagnose each type of disorder.
“While research on definitive blood tests for disorders like depression is interesting, the reality is that there are far too many factors that play into symptoms of conditions like depression to ever have a definitive blood test to diagnose the disorder,” Beurkens said.
She added that there can be a variety of underlying environmental or biological causes of depression.
There is some possible concern that if a depression blood test did come out, insurance companies could base their mental health coverage on “passing” the blood test.
“People can suffer from depression symptoms for many different reasons,” Beurkens said.