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J Genet Couns. 2018 Feb;27(1):204-216. doi: 10.1007/s10897-017-0140-5. Epub 2017 Aug 7.

Blue Genes? Understanding and Mitigating Negative Consequences of Personalized Information about Genetic Risk for Depression.

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Center for Research on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, NYSPI Unit 122, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY, 10032, USA.
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


Personalized genetic testing for vulnerability to mental disorders is expected to become increasingly common. It is therefore important to understand whether learning about one's genetic risk for a mental disorder has negative clinical implications, and if so, how these might be counteracted. Among participants with depressive symptoms, we administered a sham biochemical test purportedly revealing participants' level of genetic risk for major depression. Participants told that they carried a genetic predisposition to depression expressed significantly lower confidence in their ability to cope with depressive symptoms than participants told they did not carry this predisposition. A short intervention providing education about the non-deterministic nature of genes' effects on depression fully mitigated this negative effect, however. Given the clinical importance of patient expectancies in depression, the notion that pessimism about one's ability to overcome symptoms could be exacerbated by genetic information-which will likely become ever more widely available-represents cause for concern. Education and counseling about the malleability of genetic effects may be an important tool for counteracting clinically deleterious beliefs that can be evoked by genetic test results. Genetic counselors may be able to help patients avoid becoming demoralized by learning they have a genetic predisposition to depression by providing education about the non-deterministic role of biology in depression, and a brief audiovisual intervention appears to be an effective approach to delivering such education.


Biological explanations; Depression; Genetics; Health beliefs; Prognostic pessimism

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