A Blood Test for Suicide


In recent years we have seen troubling headlines about kids who have committed suicide after being bullied.

Some of their parents may be haunted by the question, "Why didn't I know" But there are no clear warning signs, unlike a viral or bacterial infection. Yet, researchers have now identified biomarkers that are linked to suicidal thoughts!

Biomarkers are signals that show up under specific conditions. For example, our bodies produce cytokines to defend against viruses. In the new study, seventy-five men with bipolar disorder were followed for thoughts of suicide, from zero to high, in interviews spaced three to six months apart.

Several proteins in their blood varied with the men's mood swings, but one in particular, SAT1, stood out. In nine men with high suicidal thoughts, the protein was elevated. Researchers then tested blood from nine men who had already committed suicide and found even higher SAT1 levels. To further confirm the protein's role in suicide, they took regular blood samples from forty men with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The results were consistent. Those with high SAT1 levels were eighty percent more likely to be hospitalized later for suicidal behavior. These results look convincing, but they are not conclusive.

Many factors affect SAT1 levels such as toxins and infections, and suicide is a complex mental illness. It is possible though, by combining behavioral along with biological indicators, doctors could one day prevent thousands of heartbreaking suicides.

More Information

A Blood Test for Suicide?
"What if a psychiatrist could tell whether someone was about to commit suicide simply by taking a sample of their blood? That is the promise of new research, which finds increased amounts of a particular protein in the bloodstream of those contemplating killing themselves. The test was conducted on only a few people, however, and given that such biomarkers often prove unreliable in the long run, it is far from ready for clinical use."

Blood Test May Predict Risk of Suicide
"It can be difficult to tell when a person is contemplating suicide -- people may be reluctant to speak about it. But now, researchers say they may have a new tool that reveals suicidal thoughts with a blood test."

Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)