by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD
While depression is prevalent in all of society, military members returning from deployment are especially at risk. Wouldn’t be great if there was a blood test to identify individuals who are depressed? Researchers at Northwestern University believe that they may have found a way to identify major clinical depression using a widely available blood test.
Benefits of a blood test for depression 
- Current psychological tests for depression are dependent on the individual’s reporting of depressive symptoms.
- Tests vary, some emphasizing specific aspects of depression over others.
- Most depression is diagnosed and treated in primary care (not by specialists trained in diagnosing and treating depression).
Don’t Celebrate Yet
The blood tests described in the latest research by Redei, and colleagues (2014)  are preliminary and have a small number of study participants, but the results are promising. To conduct this study, researchers recruited 64 participants. Thirty-two of the participants met criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) according to the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview and scored greater than 15 on Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. The control group of 32 non-depressed (ND) participants was similar in age, sex, and race. RNA blood samples were taken from both groups. The MDD group was administered 18 sessions of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Following CBT, tests were conducted on the MDD group to measure remission. Blood samples were taken from the MDD group following CBT and compared with the ND group.
- The researchers identified 9 blood biomarkers that were significantly different in MDD participants versus the ND group.
- Some biomarkers in the MDD group related to depression indicated a change following 18 sessions of CBT.
Implications for Clinicians
While there are well-established psychological tests for depression, they depend on the client reporting depression symptoms accurately. A blood test would support conclusions reached by mental health clinicians. In areas where access to mental health professionals is limited, blood tests could indicate depression and then patients could be referred to a mental health provider for treatment. This is certainly a development to follow!
 Redei E. E., Andrus B. M., Kwasny M .J., Seok J., Cai X., Ho J., & Mohr D. C. (2014). Blood transcriptomic biomarkers in adult primary care patients with major depressive disorder undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. Translational Psychiatry, 4, 1-7 doi: 10.1038/tp.2014.66
This post was written by Jay Morse & Heidi Radunovich, PhD, members of the MFLN Family Development (FD) team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, You Tube, and on LinkedIn.