Depression is a mind-altering mental disorder that steals life away from the untreated and misdiagnosed — imagine if one blood test could change all of that through a screening process. Researchers from Northwestern University have developed the first blood test designed to detect clinical depression in adults, and published their groundbreaking findings in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Doctors may soon be able to check for depression right alongside your cholesterol count with a blood test. The sooner a person is screened and diagnosed for depression, the sooner they can be helped. Nearly 40,000 Americans take their lives every year through an act of suicide, and many who attempt never seek professional care.

Previously, blood tests were tried by finger-crossing researchers to screen depression in teenagers who are especially vulnerable. First, they tried to pinpoint genetic and environmental predispositions in rats in order to sort out 26 markers for major depression. Then they looked for those markers in the blood of 28 human teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19, half of them diagnosed with depression and the other half without. The results were remarkable, as researchers announced in 2012 that 11 of their markers showed up in all of the depressed teens, but none in the teens without depression.

This new test takes those markers to the next level in adults. After 18 weeks of cognitive behavior therapy with 32 adults between the ages of 21 and 79, the research team was able to highlight markers in the patients and determine which ones were responding well to therapy by seeing actual physical changes in their blood tests. The test focuses on nine blood markers that are different in those who are depressed compared to those who aren’t depressed. By watching for the markers that indicate depression, researchers can essentially scan blood samples to determine who is suffering from clinical depression.

Considering there are more than 18 million adults in the United States who battle clinical depression, physicians have strived through leaps and bounds in research to come closer to understanding the ins and outs of their internal fight. Currently, depression is only diagnosed through a number of subjective one-on-one observations of a patient’s behavior and mood with a qualified therapist, along with self-reported events and feelings. A blood test may eventually be able to test for levels of severity or direction for treatment depending on the types of biomarkers that are highlighted on the test.

For those who seek treatment, 80 percent of them are treated successfully, according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. If primary care doctors provided routine testing for depression, maybe suicide wouldn’t be the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Depression isn’t just being in a bad mood or feeling sad every once and a while, but it’s instead a life-altering and damaging mental disorder. The earlier detection, the earlier prevention can become.

Source: Redei EE, Ho J, Cai X, Seok J, Kwasny MJ, and Mohr DC. Blood transcriptomic biomarkers in adult primary care patients with major depressive disorder undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. Translational Psychiatry. 2014.