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genetic testing

Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health: How Both Relate to Pharmacogenetics

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Daniel Lehewych, March 19, 2021

Key Takeaways:

 1. Behavioral health is simply the connection between one’s behaviors affect one’s health at any level. This includes physical health, psychological health, and even spiritual health. Mental health is merely one aspect of behavioral health. It is also simply one way of understanding mental health.

2. Mental health is the state of our psychological, emotional, and social well-being.

3. Pharmacogenetics is the study of how people respond differently to medications based upon their genetics. Pharmacogenetics can inform the treatment of mental health and behavioral health conditions by improving the efficacy of drug selection to suit an individual’s genetic profiles.

Behavioral health and mental health are often lumped in together, as either synonymous or similar enough to consider under the same light. However, behavioral health and mental health are not the same things. They are certainly interconnected, but when it comes to treating either a behavioral health condition or a mental health condition, they need to be treated differently. This is especially the case when one utilizes pharmacogenetic methods to determine which medication a patient should be on.

What is Behavioral Health?

 Behavioral health is, at bottom, the connection between one’s behaviors and the state of one’s health in any way. For instance, smoking cigarettes –which could lead to cancer– is a behavioral health problem. Another example is overeating, which is a behavior that could lead to obesity. In essence, behavioral health is a comprehensive concept under which any health condition –whether it is a mental or physical health condition brought about by specific behaviors fits.

 

What is Mental Health?

 Mental health is the state of one’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being. A mental health condition is a condition whereby one’s psychological, emotional and social well-being is negatively impacted. Some signs of a mental health condition might be –though are by no means limited to– problems at work, problems in your relationships, school problems, feelings of anxiety, and feelings of depression. Some mental health conditions can lead to behavioral health conditions, as mental health conditions affect how people behave, quite often to the detriment of their health and well-being.

 

What is Pharmacogenetics? Why is it useful?

 Pharmacogenetics is the scientific study of how specific drugs/medications interact with any given individual’s genetic profile. The reason this is useful is that it can help combat what is often known in the medical community as the “trial-and-error” method of prescribing medications to patients. For instance, it is well-known that prescribing medication in oncology is largely done through trial-and-error. If a patient doesn’t react well to a certain drug, they will continue to try new ones until they find the one that works for them. The utility of pharmacogenetics is to bypass the trial-and-error method of prescribing medications. Quite often, the reason why patients react badly to medications is that the genetic profile of that person has determined their ability to metabolize, absorb, distribute and excrete certain drugs in such a way that causes uncomfortable side-effects. Pharmacogenetic allows doctors to view the possibility of such interactions ahead of time to avoid the possibility of negative side-effects.

 

Pharmacogenetics and Behavioral Health

 Genetic testing, in general, can be profoundly helpful when treating behavioral health conditions. Firstly, genetic testing can be profoundly valuable for the preventative care of potential behavioral health conditions. Genetic testing can help patients understand what behavioral health conditions they are genetically susceptible to. By doing so, doctors can provide guidelines on how to prevent the development of certain behaviors.

In terms of pharmacogenetics itself, if a doctor decides that medication is a good option for the behavioral health condition in question, through pharmacogenetics, that doctor can pick the most effective and least side-effect-creating of drugs for their patient. For instance, let us say that a patient has a problem with smoking cigarettes. There are a few drug options that a doctor might pick from in order to treat this problem. There is a profound amount of individual variability in terms of how people respond to these drugs. Utilizing pharmacogenetic testing can help doctors determine which drug their patient will most likely have the best reaction to.

 

Mental Health and Pharmacogenetics:

 Psychiatric drugs are notorious for their individual variability. Take SSRIs, for instance. The idea behind all of them is the same: they are supposed to increase levels of serotonin in the brain by blocking serotonin receptors. There are many SSRIs. This is because there is such a wide-variety of responses to these drugs that people usually need to try several of them before they find the one that works for them. This process can take months for patients and it can also entail enduring some brutal side-effects on top of already existing uncomfortably from their mental health conditions.

There are a few ways that pharmacogenetics can help with the treatment of mental health conditions. Firstly, like behavioral health conditions, pharmacogenetic testing can help doctors prescribe medications in a way that caters towards their genetic profile so as to maximize positive effects and minimize negative effects. Secondly, the information which is collected through pharmacogenetics can be utilized to create new drugs. These drugs would cater to patients with specific genetic profiles. Such catering would entail that those with specific genetic profiles would receive the maximum amount of benefit from the drug while minimizing negative effects from the drug.

Pharmacogenetics has, in the past 17 years, revolutionized medicine in a profound way. For both the doctor and the patient, pharmacogenetics makes the process of prescribing and taking a medication much smoother and less rife with worries about negative side-effects. Especially within the context of behavioral health and mental health, pharmacogenetics and genetic testing, in general, should begin to be more prominently considered a fundamental pillar of treatment for doctors. It will reduce the risk of liabilities, make the job of selecting medications easier and more accurate, and it will make patients far happier with the results of their visit to the doctor’s office.