New Study May Bring You Closer to Finding the Right Depression Medication

Finding the right depression medication is often a process of trial and error, but new research indicates that biomarker tests could present opportunities for more personalized depression treatment in the future. While the tests themselves may be years away from implementation, the research highlights the value of tailored care that addresses your unique needs.

Attempts to destigmatize depression often rely on comparing mental illnesses to physical ailments. Diabetes, cancer, and asthma are just some of the conditions employed as analogies, all with the goal of increasing understanding of depression and seeking to legitimize the experience of mental illness. After all, virtually everyone has suffered from a physical illness at some point and can recognize those ailments as real and involuntary. It is a way of establishing a common language and saying, “This is real. This counts.”

But while depression is indeed every bit as legitimate as physical conditions, it also differs sharply from the vast majority of medical conditions in that there are currently no clear biological markers of the illness. There is no blood test, no cell analysis, no ultrasound or MRI. This lack of concrete material evidence of depression means that you are highly reliant on the expertise of your psychiatrist for diagnosis, making it more imperative than ever to seek out the highest quality care possible. It also means that once you get that diagnosis, treatment itself is largely an open frontier; there is no surefire way to predict what kind of care you will respond to, no plasma values that tell you Treatment A will work better than Treatment B. As a result, pharmacological treatment is largely a process of trial and error, one that can be time-consuming, frustrating, and expensive. It is estimated that roughly 50% of people with depression do not respond to first-line antidepressants and 10-30% “do not improve or show a partial response coupled with functional impairment, poor quality of life, suicide ideation and attempts, self-injurous behavior, and a high relapse rate.”

Using Biomarkers to Personalize Depression Treatment


A group of researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London have developed a test measuring two inflammation biomarkers associated with poor antidepressant response rates. As John von Radowitz writes for The Independent,

Scientists found that patients with levels of both biomarkers above a certain threshold were 100% certain not to respond to conventional, commonly prescribed drugs. Those with Inflammation markers below the threshold could be expected to respond to first-line antidepressants.

Biomarker measurement, then, can guide clinicians toward finding the right depression medication more rapidly and reliably, without having to waste time on ineffective or counterproductive treatments. Study author Dr. Carmine Pariante notes:

This study provides a clinically suitable approach for personalizing antidepressant therapy – patients who have blood inflammation above a certain threshold could be directed toward earlier access to more assertive antidepressant strategies, including the addition of other antidepressants or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Brian Dow of Rethink Mental Illness calls the findings a “game changer,” noting that it currently takes some people years to find the right medication, during which time they struggle with fluctuating side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and deepening depressive symptoms. “We hope this new research creates a much needed short cut to a future where it’s no longer luck of the draw when it comes to vital medication.”

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Improving Outcomes with Tailored Care


While the study is indeed immensely promising, it may be years before the new test becomes available in clinical practice. In the meantime, working with a psychiatrist who has the expertise to craft thoughtful medication protocols based on your specific symptoms is often vital to your recovery process. Despite the fact that no biological marker tests are currently in use, psychiatrists can use your symptomatology to guide medication planning, particularly in a residential treatment setting in which you can continuously provide feedback regarding medication effects, giving your doctor the opportunity to tailor your care according to your immediate experiences.

But finding the right depression medication is just one step toward regaining health. Studies have repeatedly shown that the best outcomes are typically found in a combination of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic strategies. As David Salisbury of Vanderbilt University writes, “The odds that a person who suffers from severe, nonchronic depression will recover are improved by as much as 30 percent if they are treated with a combination of cognitive therapy and antidepressant medicine rather than by antidepressants alone.” Indeed, the insight and skills gained through both psychotherapy and holistic therapies are often vital for repairing the damage of depression in a way medications simply can’t; psychosocial interventions can go beyond simply targeting clinical symptoms and open up the door to renewed joy, purpose, and engagement by recognizing the full scope of your needs.

What the study does underscore is the need for personalized depression treatment; regardless of whether your care includes medication, psychotherapy, or holistic therapies, your care must be designed around your circumstances and draw on your strengths to help you heal in a way that is right for you. At Bridges to Recovery, we are committed to providing tailored treatment plans that offer you multiple avenues toward healing and create opportunities for growth and self-discovery. We recognize that each person comes to us with a unique history, and our curriculum is designed to be responsive to your individual needs. Our highly trained clinicians bring together years of expertise to provide the highest quality treatment guided by the latest research to create truly transformative experiences to not only address your symptoms, but help you more fully understand yourself, love yourself, and uncover your authentic self free from the pain of depression.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive, residential treatment for people struggling with depression as well as co-occurring substance use and eating disorders. Contact us for more information about our innovative program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.

Lead Image Source: Pexels user Kevin Culala