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Not much is understood about suicide. Why some people are more inclined than others to attempt suicide, how suicidal thoughts begin to develop in the mind, and what can be done to prevent suicide are all questions we still do not know the answers to. It is a common belief that depression leads to suicide. But, while this may be true, fewer than 10% of people diagnosed with depression attempt suicide and approximately 10% of those who successfully kill themselves were never diagnosed with any type of mental health problem.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults. Over the past decade, our nation has been afflicted by an increasing rate of suicide, with one death by suicide every 13 minutes.

 Suicide is such a sensitive topic to discuss, and often signs are ignored

Image Source: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou

Carlos Zarate, a psychiatrist at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, hopes to curb these grim statistics with his most recent project. He and a team of colleagues are currently in the midst of launching a research study that will investigate the brain anatomy of suicidal individuals. Zarate and his team believe that those who are suicidally inclined may have biological markers in the brain that can set them apart from others. They hope that if these markers can be distinguished, suicide could be prevented more effectively.

This project will comprise of 50 people who have attempted suicide two weeks prior to enrolling in the study, 40 people who have attempted suicide more than a year ago, 40 people with depression or anxiety who have never attempted suicide, and 40 healthy people who will serve as controls. Zarate and his team plan to compare brain structure and function among the different groups in hopes of determining brain mechanisms associated with suicidality.

They will also be studying the effect of ketamine, known commonly as a “party drug”,  on those who have most recently attempted suicide. In some circumstances, ketamine has been used as treatment for depression and can arrest suicidal behavior for a week. These findings suggest that the drug is able to affect brain circuits specific to suicidal thinking. However, Zarate and his fellow researchers aim to investigate the effects of ketamine further.

A better understanding of suicide could help save thousands of lives from suicide annually. If Zarate and his team are successful in seeking specific markers of suicidal thoughts in the brain, they can open up the possibility of developing more effective drugs that can curb suicidal inclinations.

Feature Image Source: Meditations

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