In “Suicide Gene Identified” (The Scientist , November 16, 2011), Jef Akst reports, “Researchers identify a gene that is more likely to be carried by people who are suicidal than depressed individuals who are not”:
Mann and his colleagues tested the DNA of more than 400 individuals with major depression, about a third of whom had attempted suicide at some point in their past, and identified a variant of a gene called RGS2, which affects the activity of certain neurotransmitter receptors, that was linked to the suicidal behavior. Specifically, 43 percent of the suicidal patients had two copies of the “suicidal” variant, while fewer than 20 percent had two copies of a “safer” variant. The researchers announced their findings earlier this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC.
Could be a factor. But then there’s this: A big risk for suicide is the fact that someone else in one’s group – family or friend – has committed suicide. Most evidence is anecdotal, but it is based on considerable experience.
What about suicide risk among suicide grievers? Data on suicide griever suicide is unavailable. Estimates of this group’s risk of suicide range from 1.5 to 5 times higher. One of four suicide attempters has a family history of suicide. “Survivors” are the group at highest risk of suicide. A multistate study of suicides found that 14% had lost a relative to suicide. Adolescents who have lost a friend to suicide are almost 3 times more likely to complete suicide than those who have not. Suicide grievers who have a consanguineous relationship to the victim may share neurobiological features that may increase thier risk. Both risk (and protective) factors for suicide “run” in families. Examples of risk factors are abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, other serious mental illness, or alchol use.
While knowing about the gene may be helpful, it would be especially helpful to learn that the troubled individual knew that an uncle and an elder brother had committed suicide, which may appear to legitimize the choice as a “family” thing. Also, survivors’ reactions, whatever their origin, won’t usually surface as an explicit suicide attempt; they more often appear as risky or antisocial behaviour, and relationship breakdowns. There is plenty of room for further research here.
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