Biomarkers for Suicide Risk

Experts say they’ve found physical signs in the human body that can predict a person’s likelihood of attempting suicide.

This could end up being an important discovery: Annually, more people now die at their own hands than die as a result of motor vehicle accidents. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control, the suicide rate of Americans increased by nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010, and by nearly 50 percent in men over the age of 50.

A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry shows that suicidal tendencies are expressed in a person’s genes through biomarkers—characteristic in cells that indicate a particular phenomenon, such as disease.

Alexander Niculescu, a psychiatrist at Indiana University in Indianapolis, and colleagues say people with a higher risk of suicide have higher levels of six specific biomarkers. They discovered them by studying white men with bipolar disorder who were already enrolled in a study and who had recently begun having suicidal thoughts. They compared those men’s blood to blood taken from nine men who had committed suicide.

Researchers found the suicidal men and those who committed suicide had elevated levels of the same biomarkers.

“Our results have implications for the understanding of suicide, as well as for the development of objective laboratory tests and tools to track suicidal risk and response to treatment,” the study says.  

While the finding could potentially lead to a breakthrough in helping to better identify people with a higher risk of suicide, researchers say the issue needs to be studied further to see if other kinds of biomarkers can be found in both genders, other races, and other demographics.

“Given the fact that approximately one million people die of suicide worldwide each year, and this is a potentially preventable cause of death, the need for, urgency and importance of efforts such as ours cannot be overstated,” researchers concluded their study.

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

More on Healthline