For those whose job it is to deal with suicide, the sight of blood is never good news. But recent findings by researchers at a leading U.S. medical university may lead to a simple blood test that could predict with a high degree of certainty whether someone is at risk of committing suicide. Currently suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10–19, and the rate of suicide among U.S. veterans is more than twice that of the civilian population. The breakthrough involves sophisticated DNA analysis that identifies a genetic marker that can help indicate which people are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and thus at risk of attempting suicide.
Researchers discovered, by analyzing brain samples from both healthy and mentally ill people, that a gene known as SKA2 is found at significantly lower levels in the brains of people who had committed suicide. This gene is associated with the brain’s ability to quiet negative thoughts and control impulsive behavior. When a person experiences stress, the hormone cortisol is released in the brain. Hormone receptors in the brain then kick in to suppress the level of cortisol, thus allowing stress to subside. If a person’s brain has too little SKA2, or if the gene is altered in some way, the stress hormone receptor is unable to do its job. In such cases, researchers believe, a person’s negative thoughts go unchecked as the hormone persists at abnormal levels.
The next step is to study this genetic marker in larger population samples. If the recent findings about SKA2 are confirmed, a blood test could be developed for use in treating people with severe depression. Suicide is preventable, but prevention efforts have been hampered by the inability to predict which individuals are most at risk. Such a blood test could help identify those in need of intervention.
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- A Blood Test for Suicide? Alterations to a Single Gene Could Predict Risk of Suicide Attempt
Read the original announcement on the new research finding involving a DNA marker for suicide risk.
(Source: Newswise, Johns Hopkins Medicine, July 28, 2014)
- Researchers Have Created a New Blood Test to Predict Risk of Suicide
This article examines the implications of new findings on DNA and suicide risk.
(Source: The Daily Beast, July 30, 2014)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
No matter what problems you’re facing, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and connect to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.
(Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; accessed 1/9/2015)
- Suicide Rate for Veterans Far Exceeds That of Civilian Population
This report focuses on the incidence of suicide among military veterans, who are currently the nation’s most at-risk population; includes statistics on suicide rates by state, comparing those for veterans and civilians.
(Source: Center for Public Integrity, August 30, 2013)
- Preventing Youth Suicide—Tips for Parents and Educators
This web page presents key information—risk factors, warning signs, and more—for parents, teachers, counselors, or anyone concerned about helping to prevent suicide among young people.
(Source: National Association of School Psychologists; accessed June 22, 2016)