On a Serious Note: Blood Test for Suicide Risk?

Since it has been a little while since I have done a mental health post, I thought I would bring up a topic that has been receiving some media attention lately. Blood test that will be able to determine an individuals risk for suicide. Yep, you heard me right a Blood Test!

So here’s the deal:

There was a recent study done, which compared brain tissue samples from people who have died by suicide to those who have died from other causes. This test has identified a genetic mutation in the SKA2 gene, found to be common among those who died by suicide. Additionally, a chemical change, called an epigenetic change, was found on the same gene that was more common among people who committed suicide than those who died of other causes. Further research confirmed that these genetic changes correctly identified 80 percent to 96 percent of people who experienced suicidal thoughts or made suicide attempts. If these findings are confirmed, then it could lead to a test specifically designed to look for suicide risk.

The idea here is that with the possible development of this blood test it may be used to screen people in psychiatric emergency rooms or determine how closely an individual need to be monitored for suicide risk.

However, while this new approach sounds promising, it has me wondering if the test is going to add more value in being able to medically identify the risk of suicide versus using traditional mental health evaluations. I could be totally off here, but I have a few concerns.

Is this test really a good idea when dealing with an issue as serious as suicide? What if this test in unable to accurately predict everyone who is having thoughts of suicide? Will it prevent individuals from seeking therapeutic methods that are needed to address the underlying cause for suicidal thoughts and behaviors? Could it cause unnecessary worry and anxiety?

One concern I thought of is that, instead of seeking appropriate mental health interventions, individuals will go for the quickest fix and opt for medication. While medication is effective at reducing symptoms of mental health disorders that can lead to the development of suicidal ideation and behaviors, it does not fix the problem in the long run. Without taking the time to get at the underlying cause for why an individual has begun having suicidal thoughts, or has made suicide attempts, then an individual is not going to fully recover. This can lead to the return of suicidal thoughts further down the road.

Another concern that came to mind is whether or not the test can accurately predict the chance that an individual is going to be at an increased risk for suicide. To my knowledge this current study does not take into consideration if those individuals who died by suicide were born with this genetic mutation or if it developed as the result of something that happened in their life, such as exposure to trauma or substance use. This is an important factor because it would determine if this test only needs to be given once or if it needs to be periodically administered throughout a person’s life.

Finally, having the option to take this test can cause high amounts of stress in individuals who would otherwise have no reason to believe that the risk even exists. Additionally, testing positive for an increased risk of suicide does not mean that a suicide attempt is inevitable.

Like I said before I could be wrong, but it’s something to think about. Anyone else have any concerns or even positive things to say about this potential blood test?

 

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