Parent Survival Guide: Swab test looks at mental health and genetics

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 2:18 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - According to research at the University of Oxford, our genes influence the way our brains are wired up in childhood making us more vulnerable to a range of mental health conditions later in life.

Psychotherapist and clinical social worker Dr. Margret Cochran has long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families having genetic roots.

“Mental illness is inherited and is genetically based all of it depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders are inheritable,” Cochran said.

It’s that very genetic science and more than a decade of helping his own son work though his depression that piqued the interest of Shawn O’Brien. O’Brien is a mental health advocate and CEO of the company Genomind.

His company has developed a test kit called the Mental Health Map designed to identify a person’s genetic variants that influence behavior, mood, stress response and more.

The test kit comes with a cheek swab which is then sent off to a lab for analysis and then loaded onto a secure portal.

“We look at mood, stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, memory, social use and habits and eating behavior,” O’Brien said.

Cochran says the Genomind tool has been an especially useful map in her clinic helping her make more personalized treatment and medication decisions.

It also analyzes a patient’s genes to find which psychiatric medications would work best avoiding trial and error.

“You don’t come with a tag on your toe that says if depressed give X and some of those things might not agree with your body. If we have our medication gene map, we can say here are vie things that could work for depression and here are three things not to give you. So, we can start with our best list then we have other options,” Cochran said.

O’Brien says he wishes he had the Genomind technology when his son Tim was dealing with his own illness.

“If I had this tool ahead of time, I could have been a better help to Tim having this info, and understanding the biological makeup of my son and assisted him on his journey to wellness,” O’Brien said.

“You can break those chains that have kept families trapped in various kinds of illness for many generations,” Cochran said.

The Genomind Mental Health Map testing kit runs about $500 dollars. Cochran says some insurance companies are now paying for them so it’s good to first check with your insurance provider.

More information on Genomind and genetics can be found on their website.

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