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4 Brain Studies aimed at Suicide prevention


Note: Special thanks to Howie Nave (KRLTFM) and Lisa Schaffer (Wildwood Maker’s Market and part-time meaningful staffer at Suicide Prevention Network) for raising awareness in a variety of ways this month.

Talking on air about mental health and suicide awareness – recent brain studies

By Jeanne Nelson, President, NAMI El Dorado County: (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Dear Survivors – families of loved ones who have died by suicide….

We have so many unanswered questions. Why did our loved one give up hope?  What could I have done differently to prevent this tragedy?   Why didn’t I see the signs?

When the social narrative of past events is recorded and read 20 years from now – the plight of persons who died by suicide may very well be recorded as having been a sad disgrace because we waited so very long to invest in brain research.

We take comfort that we are not alone in our feelings.  We take comfort that time will lessen the frequency and duration of the waves of grief.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young adults in the United States Suicidal risk is notoriously difficult to assess and predict

Major Depressive Disorder affects nearly 300 million people of all ages globally and is the leading cause of disability worldwide

It is common to hear what we can do to help.   We know that over 1,000,000/year globally die by suicide.  Over 90% were living with depression or another diagnosable mental or co-occurring substance abuse disorder.   We hear about things we can do such as

  • Learn warning signs
  • Use resources like 24 hour crisis and text lines
  • Take Mental Health First Aid
  • Start a conversation expressing concern and listen with empathy….you are not alone I am with you.
  • Create a family tree going back at least 2-3 generations noting mental health issues, addiction, and death by suicide using 3 different colors – have those crucial conversation with your kids early and often…then work to build resiliency.

But there is another thing we can do…in fact one thing is barely talked about.  We can learn a bit of the current brain-science research addressing suicide.  

The Center for Disease Control reports that Suicide is increasing in nearly every state; one of 3 leading causes of death increasing (the other being Alzheimers and Drug Overdoses.).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could use preventative testing?   5 recent game-changing pieces of notable brain research.    There is great hope for our future – great hope that the results of these 5 studies for example will one day be precise and will be mainstreamed into healthcare and insurance processes.

1)   Brain imaging science identifies individuals with suicidal thoughts

October 30, 2017, Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Univ of Pittsburgh

have developed an innovative and promising approach to identify suicidal individuals by analyzing the alterations in how their brains represent certain concepts, such as death, cruelty and trouble.

Read study here

and explained here as well.

2)    Janssen Phase 3 trials: Esketamine Nasal Spray in Patients with Treatment-Resistant Depression

The research team has found that continuing treatment with esketamine nasal spray plus an oral antidepressant in patients beyond 16 weeks showed clinically meaningful and statistically significant superiority to treatment over placebo – ultimately improving time to relapse of symptoms of depression. Imagine walking into an Emergency Department with suicidal ideation and being able to feel better (just hours later) – being back to a baseline where treatment can proceed.

Read study highlights here

3) Blood test could indicate predisposition to suicide.

A brain-research team, analyzed brain samples from the cadavers of both mentally ill and those without mental health issues… cases where the people had died by suicide

DISCOVERED: a lower-than-normal concentration of a gene known as SKA2 which plays apart in the brain’s handling of stress hormones, and if it isn’t functioning properly or is lacking…Then stressful situations that would ordinarily be bearable can drive a person to contemplate or even attempt suicide.

The finding was backed up by an analysis of blood samples taken from living test subjects ultimately illustrating that the scientists could predict with 80 percent overall accuracy which of the participants had contemplated or attempted suicide. The accuracy went up to 90 percent for test subjects who posed a severe suicide risk, and 96 percent for the youngest group of participants.

Read study highlights here

4) Brain Abnormalities Linked to Suicidal Behavior in Young People with Bipolar Disorder by analyzing neural circuitry:

This new study found structural and functional differences in the brains of those with the disorder who have attempted suicide and those who have not.   The differences affect parts of the brain involved in emotional processing and impulse control.   This could help researchers identify young people who are at greatest risk.

Read study highlights here

Visit to learn more about current brain research.

Please reject guilt.  This is something we frequently say as NAMI members/friends “reject guilt.”   Suicide survivors, you did not cause the loss of your loved one.  Let us each continue to educate our community about brain health and current brain research.     And finally to the 5 individuals that visited our NAMI El Dorado County booth at Emily’s Walk for Hope and disclosed for the very first time that they had a loved one die by suicide I applaud you.   One of you had been carrying this weight on your shoulder’s for 60 years – I applaud you in particular – talking about mental health, our losses, our loved ones, and mental health in general is a wonderful step in maintaining our own wellness.


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