DNA testing could help improve mental health treatment

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017

DNA testing could help improve mental health treatment

Genetic testing company myDNA has conducted a national study into the mental health of Australians, revealing that two-thirds of people believe that improvements could be made to their medication. The release of the study results coincides with National Psychology Week, which is running from 12–18 November.

In a survey of 1001 participants, one in two (50%) had experienced a mental health issue in their lifetime, with 66% of those opting to use medication. As noted by Associate Professor Les Sheffield, medical director at myDNA, “Treatment offerings are varied and can include medication, which can be effective when a patient receives the right medication at the right dose.”

This is easier said than done, with the study finding that 67% of those taking medication believe that improvements could be made to their treatment. Furthermore, 50% of people have needed to change their prescription multiple times and 21% still don’t believe they are on the right drug or dose to manage their mental health effectively.

The survey also found that of those people who waited months for their medication to take effect, 18% felt at risk as a result. One of these people is Carol Dyball, who was taking antidepressants to deal with her chronic depression for more than 15 years. She struggled to find medication that worked for her, with drugs either not working or giving her extreme side effects.

“Changing medication was a process that took several months of trial and error,” Carol said. “I had to take so much time out of work whilst waiting for the medication to take effect and it would still leave me feeling very low; I felt like I was on a constant emotional rollercoaster.”

According to myDNA, understanding our genetics can reduce the trial-and-error process of finding the right prescription, uncovering how we metabolise certain medications. This enables people to gain control of their mental health more safely and potentially with fewer side effects.

“There are now international guidelines about what to do with results and how they relate to the medication and dosage,” Associate Professor Sheffield noted. “International trials have also provided good evidence that DNA testing can predict the risk of side effects.”

“Different people do experience different side effects and it can be related to the actual type of the drug the way their body handles that drug and the dose of the drug,” added Jayashri Kulkarni, professor of psychiatry at The Alfred Hospital and Monash University.

Doctors and patients are now starting to turn to readily available DNA testing kits, which evaluate the most effective drug for each individual and help determine the appropriate dosage based on their genetic make-up. It was through such a test that Carol discovered why her medication wasn’t working for her.

“The test showed that the meds I had been on for more than 15 years were incompatible for me as I am unable to metabolise certain medications,” Carol said.

“The report also recommended suitable alternatives and, after switching, it didn’t take long for the medication to take effect. Since then, my whole life has turned around for the better.”

Associate Professor Sheffield is encouraging those who are struggling with their mental health to seek advice from their GP or local pharmacist to learn how they respond to and process certain medications, and to determine whether a DNA test could help them improve their mental health treatment.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Alexander Raths

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