Researchers study how DNA influences suicidal tendencies

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Researchers involved in one of the largest genetic studies of suicide attempts say DNA could be a factor.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Editor’s Note: If you or someone close to you is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or chat online by clicking/typing here. After July 2022, this number will be replaced by an easier-to-remember three-digit helpline number: 9-8-8.

Every 11 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering suicide a serious health problem. In 2020, over one million people in the United States attempted suicide.

Suicidal behaviors have been strongly linked to mental disorders.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and it’s the third among young adults and adolescents,” said Douglas Ruderfer, associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The main risk factors for attempted suicide are depression and mental disorders, but researchers from an international suicide genetics consortium say that risk factors may also be hidden in our DNA.

They examined the DNA sequence of 500,000 people and found that 30,000 of them had attempted suicide.

“What we found is that there is in fact an independent genetic risk that contributes directly to suicide attempt, and not simply through the risk of psychiatric disorders,” Ruderfer explained.

The researchers identified that increased risk of a region on chromosome seven.

Even after controlling for psychiatric disorders, the researchers found that the risk was still significant.

“It really supports the idea that there is no single risk factor that simply defines suicide attempts,” said student researcher Jooeun Kang.

Genetics is just one of many factors.

“Genetics is not fate,” Ruderfer said. “The hope would be to take this information and use it as an avenue to understand ways in which we can both reduce risk or find strategies to intervene.”

About 260 researchers from 20 countries contributed to this study.

It is said that for every person who commits suicide, there are 20 attempts.

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New methods to help detect suicide risk

Dr Catherine Glenn of the University of Rochester and her colleagues set out to examine whether new methods for monitoring short-term suicide risk and warning signs are feasible and acceptable.

Are they appropriate and can they be done for adolescents at increased risk of suicide attempts?

The researchers combined the Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) which asks the individual to complete surveys to measure their thoughts, emotions and behaviors several times a day with actigraphic watches (similar to smartwatches) to monitor cycles of sleep.

The results of this study could open up major avenues for research, assessment and intervention for people at risk of suicide.

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Diagnose people at risk

While the link between suicide and mental disordersespecially depression and alcohol use disorders, is well established in high income countries, many suicides occur impulsively in times of crisis with diminished ability to deal with life stresses , such as financial problems, relationship breakdown, or chronic pain and illness.

Additionally, conflict, disaster, violence, abuse or loss and a sense of isolation are strongly associated with suicidal behavior.

Suicide rates are also high among vulnerable groups facing discrimination, such as refugees and migrants; indigenous peoples; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people; and prisoners.

By far the most important risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt.

Not an isolated problem

Suicide rates increased by 30% between 2000 and 2018 and declined in 2019 and 2020. It is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020.

This represents approximately one death every 11 minutes.

The number of people who think or attempt suicide is even higher.

In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults have seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million have planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million have attempted suicide.

Still IIf you or someone close to you is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or chat online by clicking/typing here. After July 2022, this number will be replaced by an easier-to-remember three-digit helpline number: 9-8-8.

If this story has impacted your life or caused you or someone you know to seek or change treatment, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at [email protected] or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at [email protected].

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