Professor Mitchell focused his presentation on the work he and colleagues from the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW have done on patient attitudes and understanding of genetic tests for bipolar disorder and depression.
The team leads the world in focusing on patient perceptions of genetic testing for mood disorders.
"In early 2008, there was an article in Science magazine outlining a major controversy in the US concerning the commercial release of tests available through the Internet which claim to be able to determine the risk of people developing bipolar disorder and their response to antidepressants," said Professor Mitchell. "Two other tests relating to the diagnosis of major depression and schizophrenia are not far behind."
"This raises ethical as well as clinical dilemmas. Our studies are among the few that have examined patient attitudes to genetic testing for these conditions, so will be critical in the debate about when such tests should become clinically available," he observed.
"Some of the concerns raised by patients included fears that the tests could mean that people who are already vulnerable could feel more distressed and depressed - especially without appropriate counseling. There are other potential worries too, such as fears about discrimination by employers or health insurance companies. But on the other hand, patients see many potential advantages, such as allowing for early diagnosis or intervention."
The next step for this UNSW team, in a study coordinated by PhD student Alex Wilde, is to examine community attitudes to genetic testing for depression in a telephone survey of 1,000 people across NSW.
Professor Mitchell's Samuel Novey Lecture in Psychological Medicine to the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Johns Hopkins University was delivered on 13th May.