One might not think about genetic testing in regard to mental health, but it can absolutely give physicians important clues. Elizabeth Johnson, family nurse practitioner and perinatal mental health nurse practitioner at Deaconess Hospitals Center for Healing Arts, turns to such scientific data to help guide treatment options.
“Part of my niche is navigating what treatment options may be best, specific to medication, adding or subtracting, starting or stopping, based on how that person is struggling and what their need is at that time in their life,” she states.
Finding the Right Medication
Genetic testing is available to assess how a person might metabolize psychiatric medications. Based on that data, Johnson analyzes the potential of how fast (or slow) a patient breaks down that medication, as well as possible side effects. This knowledge is helpful for individuals who haven’t been able to find a viable solution for their needs. For example, they may not be metabolizing a medication in the most effective way.
There is a limitation to these tests, which she is happy to discuss at length. “It's a test that really helps me strategize if a patient is struggling to find the right medication for them, or maybe they've never been on medication for their mental health and they're really fearful, or they've heard horror stories,” she explains.
Testing Possibilities and Limitations
Johnson wants to be clear that this genetic testing doesn’t work to “diagnose” anyone with conditions such as bipolar disorder or PTSD. Rather, it helps find the most appropriate treatment option for one’s genetic makeup.
“This tool is not the Holy Grail in the only way I would make a medication choice. You still have to look at the patient's holistic healthcare and their struggles; all of their mechanics. Our heads are attached to the rest of our bodies, so you certainly need to take into account not only their DNA, but also other diagnoses and medical issues,” notes Johnson.
Ultimately, the genetic information serves as a roadmap for determining the best course of action.
Help Is Available, Testing or Not
For anyone who is curious about this type of testing, the good news is that it is often covered by insurance. GeneSight, the company Johnson utilizes, is also good about being upfront about costs via their dedication to patient-first care.
Whether or not individuals opt to use GeneSight to gain more clarity, Johnson urges anyone struggling with their mental health to reach out for help.
“Do not be afraid to look at yourself in the mirror. If you're struggling and seeing things in your mind, your emotions, your actions, your behaviors, your thinking, it's okay to speak up and to speak out. Medications may be helpful, maybe not, but not doing anything certainly doesn't help. I just want to empower anybody who is struggling to know there are resources in person, online, at our fingertips, people reaching their hands out, willing to help. But it takes the willingness of the person struggling to accept it too.”