What would it mean if depression became a medical diagnosis, instead of a mental health diagnosis? According to an article published in the Huffington Post on 9/16/2014, there may soon be a laboratory test for depression. Yes, just like you go and get your blood tested for diabetes, there may soon be a lab test for depression. The hope is that if this test is approved, and people can be diagnosed more accurately, some of the stigma of a diagnosis of depression may be lifted. Dr. Eva Redei, Ph.D., and lead investigator for this diagnostic test, says that she believes the test proves that depression, or the ability to recover from depression, “is not a matter of will.”
I agree in theory with what Dr. Redei hopes to achieve. It is time for the stigma of any mental illness to be discarded, like the practice of blood-letting. The idea that we can separate disorders of mood and mental well-being from the physical body is archaic and ludicrous. It’s as if the general population would like to believe that people choose to be depressed, anxious, obsessive, etc. No one would ever choose to feel stigmatized and isolated by a set of symptoms which overwhelm, confuse and frustrate. Yes, if this lab test reduces or eliminates the stigma of depression, that would be a gift to the world. There is also potential for the test to assess the accuracy of treatment. If lab markers can identify clinical depression, in theory they should also be able to identify improvement.
As a therapist, this raises many questions for me. Would the treatment of depression then be relegated only to medical doctors? Right now, research supports that cognitive-behavioral therapy (talk therapy focused on changing thoughts and behaviors) is equally as effective as antidepressant medication in alleviating the symptoms of depression. Many people choose a combination of antidepressant medication and sessions with a qualified therapist. Would the presence of a lab test prevent individuals for making this choice? I hope not. I hope that this lab test, if it is ever approved and marketed, would increase a person’s ability to seek appropriate treatment, and would help professionals know if their treatments are effective. That would be the best outcome for everyone.
No, depression is not a matter of will. Recovery is often a long and painful process, even with appropriate intervention. And, because of the stigma of mental illness, many people go without diagnosis or treatment. Those who are treated are often inadequately treated, or suffer relapse after relapse. Imagine having a broken limb that just won’t heal in spite of efforts to achieve healing with a variety of medical professionals. If you know someone who is suffering with depression, or any other mental health diagnosis, do not assume you know their suffering. Don’t assume they could be happy if they just decided to. Respect them enough to offer the same type of compassion you would offer to someone struggling with diabetes, or heart disease, or any other chronic health condition.
If you are struggling with feelings of sadness, crying for no reason, finding that you have trouble sleeping or that you sleep too much, contact a professional sooner rather than later. There is help available. Do not suffer needlessly. And please, do not let what people might think of you keep you from getting appropriate care.
Call me at: 831-214-8087 if you would like an appointment.