One of the greatest stigmas for anyone with a mental illness is the lack of physical proof, that it's all in your mind. And there are few diseases that people cast more aspersions on than depression. When I was just 15, my grandmother pulled me aside and asked, "Why don't you just try being happy?" Any one with this disease can share a similar story, probably several similar stories, of probably-well-meaning-people looking to 'shake them out of it' or some bullshit.
Beyond the technical abilities, it really is the cultural side-eye at depression that makes this latest research, via ScienceDaily, out of Northwestern University so crucial. Eva Redei, the professor at the Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, said:
This clearly indicates that you can have a blood-based laboratory test for depression, providing a scientific diagnosis in the same way someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol...This test brings mental health diagnosis into the 21st century and offers the first personalized medicine approach to people suffering from depression.
Redei and Northwestern spend a lot of time trashing the psychiatric profession, noting how these tests, which identifies depression through measurements of nine RNA blood markers, will provide the first "objective" diagnosis of major depression in adults. And their crowing is backed up by research: a 2010 study at NYU showed that psychiatrists were having a difficult time weeding through false positives in depression diagnoses, possibly to the extent that a third of all American diagnoses being made were false positives.
That's the ultimate fear in regarding the Redei method: while poor methodology in psychiatrists can be critiqued and finessed, a physical presence can be very hard to argue against. If there ever were an error on a Redei test, the paranoia accompanying that would be intense, even if appeals and/or corrections were possible. But still, this is very promising news. Redei, who has been developing this procedure for sixteen years, says the next steps are to test with a larger population, and to work on identifying RNA receptors between different types of depression, such as major depression and bipolar. If these larger tests prove successful, the cultural attitudes towards depression might be forever changed.