It’s in the Genes

Mental health and addictions professionals require tools. For a couple decades, Terry McLeod has been a trailblazer providing those tools in the form of Electronic ...Read More

In a lot of ways, the future has arrived with answers…now if we can figure out what to do with the answers; we may end up in better mental health.

I Googled “gene scans” and the first thing that came up is a company that sells such things, deCODEme. I can give them 2,000 of my hard earned dollars and they promise information to guide my life in areas from heart health to male pattern baldness (too late, check my picture).

A saliva test can tell us a lot about our susceptibility to certain diseases. I had a minor heart attack a few years ago, which may have been averted had I known earlier in life about my genetic leaning toward that problem. Evidently my father’s side of the family is where I inherited the heart disease problem from, and those relatives have remained mysterious and unknown to me. Although we know that sort of thing can “run in the family” I had no clue of a possible heart problem, so a gene scan may have helped me.

A friend didn’t realize diabetes ran in her extended family; perhaps she could have avoided or at least delayed the need for daily injections with a lifestyle change…if she knew of her genetic inclination toward the disease. Nutrition and exercise go a long way in preventing all sorts of physical health problems, and avoiding some foods can improve our immediate mental health. I quit caffeinated coffee and I immediately felt better, less anxious. Perhaps a diet change would have helped my friend.

A genetic test can nudge us toward lifestyle changes that can help us stay physically healthier, but can the test unveil mental health needs? If it can, what changes could I make in my life to avoid mental health problems?

I find the possibility of how this information can fit into our overall health maintenance is terribly interesting, and could augment how mental health professionals treat consumers. It’s a snap to connect a scan of the gene or printed readout of results into the Electronic Health Record (EHR). In the future, this could be a reliable map to help us avoid mental health problems or lessen severity of those problems. Having the genetic clues on the professional’s computer could guide therapy and medication, helping the professional zero in on problems and treatment solutions much more quickly. That sounds like something of value in this fast-paced instant-gratification world.

I can see a future that imports the gene scan results into the EHR, which automatically reads them and posts alerts in a consumer’s record that they may be susceptible to certain conditions like schizophrenia or depression. Other treatment resources within the EHR already suggest medications for certain conditions, and educational resources are all over the Web. Gene scan technology can be brought into treatment technology with a goal of improving diagnosis methods and providing treatment guidance. It’s nice for a professional to have just the information she needs at her fingertips.

Once again, my vision jumps the gun. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that we simply don’t yet know how to read the genetic codes and glean information about our mental health. The body of evidence is too small to provide accurate forecasting. Scientists will need to methodically compare a bundle of gene scans for multiple gene patterns in a bundle of people in order to suggest how gene scans can be valuable in forecasting likelihood of mental illness.

Considerable research is under way, so one thing is certain: The future is near.

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