Blood tests play an important role in physical health with common blood tests measuring cholesterol levels, blood count, hormones and chemicals in your body. When it comes to mental health, though, there aren’t many specific tests for healthcare providers to help reach a mental health diagnosis. For example, there aren’t any “red flags” in your blood test results that would help identify bipolar disorder to your healthcare provider. But blood tests can play a role in understanding symptoms that could represent a mental illness and help with mental health maintenance.
Blood tests during mental health screening
Feeling extra tired lately? More anxious than usual? Trouble sleeping? Time to do something about it.
Just as you would schedule an appointment or annual physical with a healthcare provider for a physical health concern, you can schedule a mental health screening if you suspect you’re suffering from poor mental health. A mental health screening is used to help diagnose mental disorders1. You can request an appointment for a mental health screening with your primary healthcare provider or seek an appointment with a psychiatrist.
During a mental health screening (also can be called a mental health assessment, mental illness test, psychological evaluation, psychology test, or psychiatric evaluation), your healthcare provider will begin by asking questions related to mental illness symptoms. Common symptoms related to poor mental health include1:
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Extreme sadness
- Major changes in personality, eating habits, and/or sleeping patterns
- Dramatic mood swings
- Anger, frustration, or irritability
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Confused thinking and trouble concentrating
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Avoidance of social activities
After answering questions about symptoms, your healthcare provider may order some blood tests to see if any of the symptoms could be related to something happening with your physical health versus mental health. For example, symptoms like depression and fatigue may align with an underactive thyroid or low Vitamin D levels2. Ruling out underlying physical conditions can help your healthcare provider pinpoint if there is a mental illness at play.
Blood tests for mental health medications
If you are diagnosed with a mental health illness and are prescribed medication, there’s a chance you may need a blood draw. Depending on the illness and medication, your healthcare provider may order bloodwork to see if you have proper levels of the medication in your system and make changes to the dose as needed. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were the first types of antidepressants developed. Commonly prescribed TCAs include:
While these antidepressants are effective, they can come with side effects and also be the cause of accidental overdoses. For these reasons, regularly testing the levels in your system is important to ensure that you are getting the proper dose3.
Another mental health illness that may require frequent medication bloodwork is bipolar disorder. Lithium is commonly ordered for this condition and while effective at treating bipolar disorder, lithium levels need to be monitored closely because it is a drug with a narrow therapeutic index. This means that careful monitoring is necessary to maximize effectiveness and minimize adverse drug events and toxicity4.
Can blood tests diagnose depression?
Considering depression affects nearly 280 million people,5 this is a popular question. While blood tests are most commonly used to rule out conditions that may present like depression, there are some recent studies showing that a blood test for depression treatment could be possible6.
Whether you need blood tests for your medication management or need to complete the tests as part of your screening, Scarlet® can help. Take one thing off your plate and let Scarlet meet you where you are for blood draws.