Genetic discovery may lead to suicide prevention

  • Posted at Sep 29, 2014
  • Written by yellowbrick

There is a definite stigma surrounding young adult suicide. Talking about suicide with a young adult can be complicated, as it is hard to put judgment aside. Victims are often blamed after a failed suicide attempt. They are questioned about why they didn’t reach out for help or how they could possibly attempt suicide. Many times, young adults are not able to offer explanations. It can be difficult for a young adult to verbalize their emotions or intentions attached to their suicide attempt. They may not fully understand their risky decision, leaving parents little insight as to how things turned so dark. While families search for concrete emotional explanations and try to prevent any future risk of suicide, they may be able to seek biological assistance in the future. 

Scientific advancements in suicide prevention

Doctors at John Hopkins University have identified biological indicators in DNA samples that may point to an increased risk of suicide. An article in The Washington Post describes the research that was originally published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The doctors conducted a study, examining the relationship between a gene named SKA2 and naturally occurring chemicals called methyls. SKA2 plays a role in how the brain adapts to and regulates stress hormones.

Doctors discovered that the function of SKA2 was altered by increased levels of methyl chemicals, making it just about impossible for the gene to control the brain’s reaction to stress hormones. Based on their findings, doctors were then able to accurately guess whether or not people had experienced thoughts of suicide by examining the SKA2 gene from collected blood samples.

Doctors are hopeful that this biological breakthrough will contribute toward developing a test to determine the risk of suicide. However, they explain that just because the biomarkers are present, it is not a guaranteed determinant in predicting suicide. Additional risk factors and warning signs should be considered as well.

Prevent suicide by seeking support

Until a genetic test for suicide is further developed and medically approved, families should become aware of the warning signs of an impending suicide. While the threat of suicide cannot clearly be defined or predicted, it is vital to take caution and seek supportive services when loved ones feel depressed or isolated.

Dr. Jesse Viner, Founder and Medical Director of Yellowbrick, designed a simple infographic, Parenting Young Adults: 9 Vital Answers About Depression And Suicide, so that families can identify the risk factors of an impending suicide. Dr. Viner points out how the risk of suicide increases when people struggle with psychiatric illness, like depression or bipolar disorder. The risk also goes up when there are concerns like eating disorders, substance abuse problems, or drug addictions.

While it may be uncomfortable to start a discussion about the possibility of suicide, families can help in preventing young adult suicide when they are willing to step in and offer assistance. If your son or daughter may be at risk of suicide, you can start finding the help your family needs by talking with your doctor or a professional mental health provider.

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