From 2000 to 2016, the rate of death by suicide in the United States increased by 30 percent. For the estimated 5 percent of Americans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a major risk factor for suicide, new research shows progress toward the prevention of self-harm.
A small study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a connection between people who suffer from PTSD with a likelihood of committing suicide to a specific biomarker (a visible indication of someone’s medical state), reports The Yale Daily News. Using PET imaging, the team of researchers at Yale University looked at the brains of 87 people (29 with PTSD, 29 with depression, and 29 with neither).
The brain scans of the PTSD group with current suicidal thoughts showed higher levels of metabotropic glutamatergic receptor 5, or mGluR5, which has been linked to both mood and anxiety disorders. Researchers did not find raised levels in the depressed group, which included both individuals with and without suicidal thoughts.
Irina Esterlis, PhD, the associate professor of psychiatry at Yale who authored the study, posits that the finding could possibly have meaningful implications for people who have lived through trauma. When their PET scans show high levels of mGluR5, mental health professionals can step in on time to give them resources and psychiatric help to prevent them from committing suicide. It’s viewed as a breakthrough for the scientific community as well, given that—if researchers can figure out a way to diminish levels of mGluR55—they might one day be able to lower the suicide rates among those with PTSD.
In order for the preliminary findings to help change the relationship between PTSD and suicide, researchers will have to conduct larger studies and establish a definitive, causal relationship between mGluR55 and mental health effects.
Considering that antidepressants now prescribed to treat those with PTSD don’t work for everybody, Dr. Esterlis remains hopeful about the discoveries future implications. “If you have people who suffer from high blood pressure, you want to reduce those levels right away,” she tells The Yale Daily News. “We don’t have that option with PTSD.”
If you or someone you know needs support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text RISE to 741741.
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