Is There Suicide In Your Blood?

Seriously, experts now think there may be a gene in our bodies that might predispose us to killing ourselves.

According to newswise.com, Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions that, if confirmed in larger studies, could give doctors a simple blood test to reliably predict a person’s risk of attempting suicide.

The discovery, described online in The American Journal of Psychiatry, suggests that changes in a gene involved in the function of the brain’s response to stress hormones plays a significant role in turning what might otherwise be an unremarkable reaction to the strain of everyday life into suicidal thoughts and behaviors, much like, I suppose the turning of a normal cell into a cancer cell.

“Suicide is a major preventable public health problem, but we have been stymied in our prevention efforts because we have no consistent way to predict those who are at increased risk of killing themselves,” says study leader Zachary Kaminsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, at newswise.com. “With a test like ours, we may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.”

He says that it might make sense for use in the military to test whether members have the gene mutation that makes them more vulnerable. Those at risk could be more closely monitored when they returned home after deployment. A test could also be useful in a psychiatric emergency room, he says, as part of a suicide risk assessment when doctors try to assess level of suicide risk.

In 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available), 39,518 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  It notes that, In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 13.3 minutes.

“We have found a gene that we think could be really important for consistently identifying a range of behaviors from suicidal thoughts to attempts to completions,” Kaminsky says. “We need to study this in a larger sample but we believe that we might be able to monitor the blood to identify those at risk of suicide.”

I remember a neighbor committing suicide when I was a kid.  He was only a couple of years older than I and I knew him from riding the bus.   He turned on the car in the garage, and he was gone.  (We didn't have much access to guns in those days.)

Though it happened almost 50 years ago, I remember it to this day, the sense of sadness, and creepiness, too, that a kid could do something like that.  His parents never got over it.  
  

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