Is DNA Genetic Testing Useful for Depression?

Those of you who suffer with depression and have tried to just grab an anti-depressant and go on your way…you know that this is NOT the way this works.

Depression is complicated and so is trying to treat it. TRIAL and ERROR is what it comes down to and the problem with that is that each attempt at a new drug may take weeks or months to figure out if it is working. You may see those commercials out there that say you will see results in as little as two weeks…don’t believe everything you hear. In most cases we don’t know if something is going to work for 3-4 months.

What is Genetic Testing?

Genetic testing for antidepressants is not as new as it may seem but I have only recently been introduced to the testing. My daughter HC struggles with depression and anxiety as well as a few other things and has had quite a time finding the perfect combination of drugs to help her depression.

This testing was recommended by her psychiatrist after a couple of years of trying to come up with the right cocktail unsuccessfully.

It was a simple process for sample collection. The nurse used a swab and collected a DNA sample from her cheek. The swab was then sent off to the lab and that is where the magic happens.

How Does Genetic Testing Work?

The lab looks at 12 different genes and test how they are processed by over 50 antidepressant drugs. I am a lab rat by trade and am very interested in how the actual process works…but I won’t bore you with the details involving enzymes and chemicals and receptors.

I will briefly explain the four types of antidepressants they test and how they work. The list kinda looks like a bowl of alphabet soup.

Just for fun here is the list with a few examples: SSRI, SNRI, TCA, and MAOI.

  • SSRI Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox)
  • SNRI Serotonin and nonepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Effexor, Cymbalta, Pristiq)
  • TCA Tricyclic antidepressants (Elavil, Norpramin, Anafranil)
  • MAOI Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Marplan, Nardil)

They are split into categories based on how they react or inhibit certain chemicals in the brain. Many times you will hear someone say that someone has a “chemical imbalance” and although that is a much simplified way to explain the process it fits for this discussion.

The basic jest of the testing takes the results of the 12 genes actual activity with the drugs and categorizes all the antidepressants into three groups.

GREEN DRUGS – these are the medications that show no interactions with the person’s genes. These are the drugs that are least likely to cause any side effects.

YELLOW DRUGS – these drugs may still be used but do show some gene-drug interactions. These interactions would lead to potential side effects.

RED DRUGS – these drugs should not be prescribed. They are the medications that will lead to adverse reactions and little if any effective treatment.

Who Does Genetic Testing Help?

Humans vary genetically—not only in eye and hair color but in other ways, such as how we metabolize drugs. While the majority of people will metabolize drugs normally, a small percentage do not.

Besides my daughter…patients who are most likely to benefit include patients who have failed to respond to multiple medications (caused by ultra-rapid metabolism, causing drug levels to be too low), and patients who have had lots of side effects ( caused by slow metabolism, causing drug levels to be too high).

The results obtained by the doctors will provide information in the following three categories based on your genetic makeup:

  • which medications may require dose adjustments
  • which medications may be less likely to work for you
  • which medications have increased risk of side effects

Here is an example of what a report will look like:


Genesight sample page

Where Can I Get Genetic Testing Done?

I can only vouch for the testing lab that we personally used which was GeneSight, from Myriad Genetics. We went through her psychiatrist who took care of all the insurance stuff and obtaining the kit. One nice thing about GeneSight is that 95% of their patients pay $330.00 or less. We paid less.

This company offers The GeneSight Promise:  Insurance can be complicated, and we want you to feel comfortable knowing what you’ll owe. We promise that if your cost could be more than $330, we’ll call you before we process your test.  That’s the GeneSight Promise.


I know this was a lot of technical stuff to absorb at once, but it comes down to a decision between you and your doctor.

If you or a loved one is having issues coming up with a treatment plan that works ask about being tested.

In HCs case we found that the GREEN Drugs List consisted of only two drugs and that she was classified as having treatment-resistant depression. This meant that in her case the doctors have to prescribe more than the recommended dose and use combinations of drugs to see results.

It has been a long road, but when we saw the RED Drugs List it made a lot more sense why she has struggled…every single drug in the DO NOT USE category was a drug we had already tried and had failed.

Don’t give up on treatment options…there is help out there.

Keep fighting the good fight


Tammy C


  1. My behavioral therapist tried to get DNA testing for me to see which antidepressant meds would work on me but my insurance company won’t pay for it and I can’t afford it out of pocket, at least any time soon. I know she told me that one of her patients for months had no positive effects from the meds they prescribed so they decided to get her DNA genetic testing and the results were shocking. Out of all the meds they tested her DNA on, like 100 of them or something, guess how many came back saying they would work on her? One.. yes, ONE!!! They prescribed that medication and she instantly had massive improvement where all the rest failed. DNA genetic testing for depression is truly amazing, I just wish I could afford it.

    • Hello Digger 

      Sorry to hear that your insurance won’t work with you on this.   I don’t understand why in your case because you would think it would save them money getting you on the correct drug.  
      Maybe if you called directly to the company they could work something out with you.    They claim that 95% pay less than $330.    
      Best of luck to you and thanks for your comments


  2. It really is amazing how far science has come. I’ve known many people throughout my life that struggled with anxiety and depression, and had a difficult time finding a medication that worked without all the the side effects. This would be awesome for them to be able to get this test done and take the guess work out and ask if the months on medication that may or may not work. Thank you so much for this, your reviews are always so helpful! 

    • Hi Travis

      Thank you for your kind review.  Science is amazing and based on others comments I guess we need the insurance companies to follow along for the ride.   
      Finding relief without all those side effects is what we all should be working towards.  

  3. Well, this seems like I’m being homeschooled concerning what genetics and DNA testing can do to help depression but I must be honest that I found this close to not easy to comprehend. rather interesting one to see and just maybe if the explanation can be a little more less technical, I would be able to pinpoint all other parts. though, just as you have stated that everything is based on consensus reached with the doctor in charge. thanks

    • Hello and thank you for your review.   Yes dealing with a post about DNA and Genetic is a tough one to follow.   My suggestion is to just let the doctors decide what is best for each individual and not try to absorb the science behind it.   

  4. I was happy to stumble across your website as I have been trying to help my sister with her clinical depression.  She does not respond well to SSRI’s and has overall seen any therapeutic benefits.  In fact she says the side effects are worse than the actual depression. Her main complaint is weight gain and lack of libido.  My question is will this help her find an anti-depressant that is better suited for her body? 

    • Hello Pamela 

      Thanks for your question.  It is my understanding that this testing will not pick the one that will work the best exactly but rather eliminate all the ones that will cause the awful side effects.   It may still be a trial and error situation if the green list has a lot of drugs on it but I haven’t seen much of that in my readings. 
      In my daughters case we were down to only two drugs  on the green list and those were the only ones we had to play with dosage and frequency.    
      Hope this helps


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