Salud Mental

Ethical and social issues in research on genetics and mental health


Eduardo Rodríguez-Yunta


Objective. To reflect on ethical and social issues related to research on the genetics of mental health.

Method. A narrative review was undertaken of 87 articles found in three databases: Medline, Scopus, and Scielo. Keywords were defined broadly to capture as many relevant publications as possible. Data were summarized by topic.

Results. The following topics were identified regarding the application of genetic and genomic tools to mental health disorders: problems with diagnosis, proper informed consent procedures, protecting confidential data, providing participants with research results, risk-benefit balance, equity and access, commercialization of genotyping, and prenatal testing.

Discussion and Conclusion. Although a promising field, there is still much research needed on genetic approaches to mental health to achieve clinical relevance and predictive value, and more so in developing countries where there is little available data. Cost-benefit studies thus do not recommend genetic diagnoses in underdeveloped settings. Instead, local approaches should be enhanced. One limitation of research on the genetics of mental health is that it seeks biological causes for mental illnesses. However, the etiology of most mental health disorders is multifactorial, limiting the predictive value of genetic tests. Still, understanding the genetic origins of the biological pathways that lead to mental illness is important to diagnosis and therapy. Other problems discussed are enhancement of the informed consent process and counseling, protection of the right to know and not to know, and how the geneticization of disease is related to stigma.
Mental health, psychiatry, genetics, ethical and social issues


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