Positive views on genetic testing for depression

4 January 2011

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) performed a randomised survey of more than 1000 adults for their attitudes towards genetic testing for depression. This is a complex disorder involving multiple genetic and environmental factors and tests for genetic predisposition are unlikely to have significant predictive value. Moreover, whilst prompt diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression is beneficial, interventions to prevent the condition developing in unaffected adults are unlikely to be useful.
Interest was greatest among those with a personal history or perceived increased risk of depression, coupled with a belief that testing might improve prevention or prompt treatment. 63% of those interviewed indicated interest in genetic tests for depression if performed via a clinician, and 40% for direct-to-consumer testing. The most common concerns were of discrimination from health insurers or employers.

Study lead Dr Alex Wilde commented: “The findings are surprising given that we also found widespread belief that genetic links to mental illness would increase rather than decrease stigma and also because the validity and utility of the testing is still in question”. She called for legislation to prevent genetic discrimination in Australia, calling European and US laws ‘inadequate’.

This sort of study does highlight key concerns about DTC genetic testing – that people may infer incorrect conclusions based on results, and that disclosure of results could result in discrimination. However, as this survey was purely on attitudes towards testing it is rather limited; it would be more useful to study the actual impact of people having such tests, rather than rushing to legislate against potential harms. For example, a recent study found only 5% of those who had paid for personal genomics testing had misinterpreted the results (see previous news). 

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