Understanding Suicide Risk Factors and Suicide Prevention
Do people living at higher elevations have an increased rate of suicide? Is suicide risk in our DNA? Are men or women more likely to commit suicide?
University of Utah Health Care professor and suicidologist Doug Gray, M.D., addressed these and other questions regarding suicide during a recent presentation at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.
According to Gray, between 2000 and 2010, the suicide rate among middle-age adults increased 28 percent, while suicide among men in their 50’s grew a staggering 48 percent. He explained these statistics were alarming given the fact that between 1990 and 2000, suicide rates in the U.S. had declined.
Of these national figures, the western region of the U.S. had the highest rate of suicide at 13.6 (per 100,000 people). Gray pointed to several studies that demonstrated higher suicide rates among those living in mountain states, and said findings come from research done by Perry Renshaw, M.D., and his research team at the University of Utah. Metabolic changes occur in the brain at high altitude that lead to treatment resistant depression for some people. The altitude threshold appears to be 2000 feet.
There is no question that genetics plays a role in suicide, as demonstrated in twin and adoption studies, Gray said, and pointed to Utah DNA studies being conducted by Hilary Coon, Ph.D. at the University of Utah. She is looking for genes that predispose for suicide. One large Utah family studied has suffered a total of 51 suicides over a number of generations.
Gray also pointed to a glaring difference between people who attempt suicide and people that complete. Attempters, he explained are 80-90 percent female, peak at 16 years old with high rates among the Hispanic population. In contrast, completers are 80-90% male, peak in the elderly population, and have higher rates among Caucasians.
Finally, Gray discussed prevention methods and advocated raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental illness so more people will get help. He applauded the joint effort between the University of Utah and the VA MIRECC suicide research team to try and reduce the epidemic of veteran suicide. He highlighted efforts by Veterans Affairs to increase the national mental health workforce by 50 percent. He also reviewed creative new approaches in our community like UNI’s hotline and warmline programs, and their mobile community crisis team. He discussed Utah school prevention programs like “Hope for Tomorrow” by NAMI and “Project Hope” developed by Greg Hudnall in the Provo school district.
About the author:
Reach the Office of Public Affairs at (801) 581-7387comments powered by Disqus