Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A bipolar home test...yikes!

Today I read an article about a doctor who is marketing a home bipolar genetic test. This is very worrisome on so many levels, I am not sure where to start. First of all, as I have asked before in this space, why aren't persons with possible mental illness seeking medical attention? Stigma, that's why. Instead of asking a doctor for a diagnosis, people with mental illness would rather take an online quiz to get diagnosed, search for cures via the internet, and will now pay $399.00 for a home genetic test of questionable value!

I am totally in favor of genetic testing for mental illnesses. Increasing our knowledge of the cause of these debilitating conditions will only improve our successful and efficient treatment of them. However, this test is based on very loose and very preliminary scientific data. It is based on only two genes which are present in people with and without bipolar disorder.

Among hundreds of families Kelsoe has studied, one of the gene variations in
the Psynomics test showed up in 1 percent of those unaffected by the disorder
versus 3 percent who are affected. The other variation appeared in 7 percent of
those without bipolar compared to 15 percent who have the disease.
As noted above, the two genes are present only 2% and 8% more often in those with bipolar disorder than in those without the disease. Two genes. Less than 10% difference in prevalence. These are hardly eye-popping numbers! We've got culture, environment, socio-economic factors, genetics...It seems a bit premature, perhaps irresponsible to market a test purporting to diagnose bipolar disorder based on only two barely significant genes.

What does releasing this test now accomplish? With so little science to base them on, the results will have little to no meaning. They'd be irrelevant, really. Unfortunately, consumers will see the results only as science, not as thinly supported, almost unsupported, irrelevant science. And that is dangerous. The doc will be $399.00 richer. The consumer will be $399.00 poorer. And what has been accomplished? False negatives. False positives. Results without meaning? If the research supporting the test looks hopeful, why not wait to release the test when it can actually provide meaningful results?


Anonymous said...

"First of all, as I have asked before in this space, why aren't persons with possible mental illness seeking medical attention? Stigma, that's why."

That's almost certainly true for a lot of people. In my case it was a more practical concern; money, or the lack thereof. I've always had trouble making a living at least in part because of my depression. It continues to amaze me how expensive many psychotropic meds are, considering the people that need them most probably can't afford them.

This capitalism-run-wild culture we live in is so conducive to chicanery. Docs peddling Zoloft to people grieving over a lost pet. All the con artist with infomercials promising the miraculous. Preachers, politicians, you name it - we live in a crazy time.

etta said...

Excellent point, and if I hadn't been half brain-dead from lack of sleep, I would have included the price of meds, lack of insurance coverage, another primary reason people do not seek medical attention. Even our federal government condones unequal coverage for mental vs. "physical" illnesses. Being on disability, my psychiatrist is paid through the federal government. She receives approximately 35% of the actual cost of my treatment. And we wonder why there is a shortage of psychiatrists? Why would you want to be a psychiatrist, treating life-threatening illnesses, and make only 35-50% of the family doctor next door who is treating the sniffles. Insane.

Anonymous said...

Between the stigma and the financial hurdles the deck is definitely stacked against us. I've noticed that people that work in the mental health field are relatively oblivious to the ignorance and discrimination people who admit to having mental health challenges face. "There are laws to protect you" yada-yada-yada. All that is nice in theory but in practice the poor and powerless are generally at the mercy of the rich and powerful (and often merciless).

I'm something of a reformed libertarian, having had my collision with reality. I've been on the socialized medicine bandwagon for awhile now. Presently, however, I'm rethinking that. I have several blogger buds in Canada and England lost in the shuffle, so to speak, of their apparently awful healthcare systems. I have no answers.

etta said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, crackedheadblogger. Your last statement, "I have no answers," sums up the situation nicely. If our leaders, politicians, CEOs, and healthcare policy-makers would adopt that sentiment rather than purporting to each have the "best" plan, which they aggressively push while closing their ears to any alternative ideas, then we may begin to find some answers.
If you've read the earlier posts in my blog, you know that I also had a painful collision with reality, as you so nicely put it! As a mental health professional and physical therapist, I thought I understood mental illness better than most, but when I got sick I learned I knew nothing of the day-to-day reality of living with this illness! Losing my job, my spouse, my house, my savings...the isolation, precipitous drop into the food-shelf line, and stigmatizing treatment I received (recieve) added insult and shame to an already excruciating situation! In the case of mental illness, I think one must walk a mile in another's shoes to truly "get it."
I have no answers either, but I will continue to speak up in hopes of encouraging the discussion. I hope you will, too. Thanks for your thoughts.