Imagine a world where a simple blood draw would be able to determine whether you or a loved one has a predetermined vulnerability to suicide? Thanks to the researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, this test could become a reality.
Researchers have been able to study brain samples from both healthy individuals and individuals with a mental illness, and have discovered that those individuals who died of suicide have a lower level of the SKA2 gene. This gene is located in the prefrontal cortex, which is the portion of the brain that controls impulses and negative thinking. SKA2 is responsible for escorting stress hormone receptors into the nuclei. When the SKA2 gene is low or altered, the stress hormone receptor is unable to suppress the release of cortisol. Cortisol levels in suicide victims are often abnormally low.
Zachary Kaminsky, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says, “A test based on these findings might best be used to predict future suicide attempts in those who are ill, to restrict lethal means or methods among those a risk, or to make decisions regarding the intensity of intervention approaches.” He imagines these tests being administered in psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms across the world.
The military has seen an enormous increase of suicides in veterans, with at least 22 suicides occurring every day. “In the military, if you were able to identify vulnerable individuals [with a blood test], you may, for example, ask them to turn in firearms when they come back from active duty, or limit access to lethal means,” says Kaminsky.
While testing for SKA2 is a step in the right direction, we as individuals need to continue to monitor our own mental health and watch for signs of suicidal ideation in others. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide call 911 or 800.273.TALK (8255).
About Jill Sauser, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill has a B.S. in Journalism (PR/Advertising) and a Minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank and YWCA. Jill joined The Kim Foundation as Project Coordinator in April 2014.