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Do You Have the Suicide Gene?

It’s no fun to talk about, especially around the holidays . . . but it’s especially relevant because that’s when the number of suicides generally goes up around the world. There has been recent talk of the “suicide gene.” So, does this gene really exist – and might you be susceptible to dark thoughts and actions because of it?

The Suicide Gene

As previously suspected, researchers have confirmed that a specific gene does, in fact, have a link to suicidal tendencies.  While having the gene obviously does not guarantee a person will be suicidal, it heightens the potential risk of suicide during their lifetime. 

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health performed a study on the gene for brain derived neurotrophic factor, known as BDNF, and the results suggest that it is involved in the development of the nervous system.  From there, suicidal behavior can also develop.  The full study has been published in the International Journal of Neurosychopharmacology.

Details of the Study

For the test, researchers from CAMH examined 3,352 people's data, including 1,202 people who had a history of suicidal behavior.  By comparing the genotype of a subject who had previously attempted suicide with the genotype of a non-suicidal person, suspicions arose that a gene was responsible.  It was found that about 90 percent of people who have successfully committed suicide had at least one mental health disorder, including those of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression and general mood disorders. Studying the subjects who underwent a psychiatric evaluation confirmed that those with the methionine, or “met,” variation of the BDNF gene were at higher risk of suicidal behavior than those who had the more stable valine variation. 

When the methionine variation BDNF is underperforming, the risk of developing suicidal behavior greatly increases.  Because of this, perhaps it might be possible for scientists to develop a compound that can help increase the BDNF functioning, which will in turn reduce the suicidal tendency.
Suicide Stats

Suicide is the 13th leading cause of death worldwide and the sixth leading cause in the United States, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  With over 30,000 Americans committing suicide annually, and over one million cases reported around the world each year, suicide claims almost twice as many lives as patients who suffer from HIV and AIDS. 

Though the BDNF gene has now been shown to increase the risk of developing suicidal behavior, scientists are generally agreeing that this is a case of “nature versus nurture.”  If someone who has the gene is living a happy, successful life, then the risk is greatly reduced.  On the other hand, if someone with the gene has experienced much despair and misfortune in life, and constantly goes through hardships like financial woes, alcoholism, drug abuse or bad relationships, their risk of becoming suicidal increases exponentially.

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