Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
One of the toughest challenges of seeking help for depression is overcoming the stigma associated with the disease. Although stigma has decreased in other areas of medical and psychiatric health, a cloud of shame and blame seems to still accompany clinical depression. This prevents people from reaching out for assistance because they don’t want their family, friends, or co-workers to know they are struggling. They are afraid they will be seen as weak because our society perpetuates the myth that depression is something people can simply snap out of if they only had the mental toughness to do it.
Well, as nice as that would be, people can’t snap out of depression any more easily than someone could snap out of cancer or diabetes. Depression is a physical disease as well as a mental disorder, even though people suffering might not look physically ill.
One way to show the public that depression is indeed a physical problem – and hence reduce the stigma surrounding it – would be to find a way to diagnose depression that resembles the way other diseases are diagnosed.
Guess what? The Walsh Research Institute might be on track to do just that. A recent study conducted by the institute found evidence for five biotypes of depression based on blood and urine samples.
In the study, the team analyzed approximately 300,000 blood and urine samples as well as 200,000 medical history factors collected from approximately 2,800 patients diagnosed with depression. They found that 95% of the patients could be classified as having one of five subtypes of depression:
- Undermethylated depression: Found in 38% of the patients, this kind of depression is due to low activity at the brain’s serotonin receptors. This means that there is enough serotonin available, but that it does not stay long enough in the space between brain cells to do its job. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter thought to play a role in some types of depression.
- Pyrrole depression: Found in 17% of the patients, this biotype is characterized by inefficient serotonin production and severe oxidative stress.
- Copper overload: Found in 15% of the patients, this kind of depression is due to an inability to metabolize metals. Patients who normalize their copper levels through nutrition therapy find relief not provided by antidepressant medications.
- Low-folate depression: Found in 20% of the patients, this biotype results from low levels of folic acid. Interestingly, a common type of antidepressant can actually provoke suicidal or homicidal thoughts among people with this kind of depression.
- Toxic depression: Found in 5% of the patients, overexposure to lead is the primary culprit in this type of depression.
Pyrrole depression can be detected in a urine sample, while the other four types can be identified with a blood test. I am highly intrigued and encouraged by this research. Not long ago, we thought that “dementia” was “dementia” – now we know that there are many, many types of dementia, each with its own unique cause. Why wouldn’t the same be true for depression? If this research continues to be validated, perhaps it can reduce the stigma associated with depression as well as lead to more accurate and effective treatments.
Healthline.com (May 17, 2014). New blood, urine tests find five distinct types of depression, researcher says. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/05/17/new-blood-urine-tests-find-5-distinct-types-depression-researcher-says/