Are Some People Born More Likely To Commit Suicide?The one thing absolutely, positively guaranteed to all of us unequivocally at birth is that one day, we all will die.   We are all going to eventually die.  The big unknown is when and where.  However, for some people there may be a genetic predisposition for committing suicide.  Scientists have actually identified a genetic mutation that more than doubles the risk of suicidal behavior in those people with it.

The Genetics of Suicide

Are Some People Born More Likely To Commit Suicide?In her book History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, Jill Biolosky, tells of a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2000 in which researchers found a mutation in a gene regulating the brain’s level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter carrying messages between brain cells that are thought to be involved in the regulation of emotion, linked to suicidal behavior. The study showed an abnormality in a specific gene that codes for the serotonin receptors.  Hence, suggesting that, when the gene is present,  the receptors are somehow faulty and the brain doesn’t absorb a healthy amount of serotonin.  The million-dollar question is whether this gene was altered because of environmental stressors or that way at birth.

Suicide does tend to run in families.  It does in mine.  On my paternal side, my grandfather, his father, his brother, and a first cousin all took their lives by shooting themselves in the head. Pills are by far the method of choice for women, and I used pills for my attempt. Biolosky tells of a Swedish study reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry that a suicide in a family doubles the risk of suicide for other family members.  Is it the power of suggestion or genetics?

Evidence that suicide runs in families has been found in both case reports and epidemiological studies due to genetics and social modeling. For example, one study found that identical twins had a stronger incidence of suicide than fraternal twins, even when they were raised separately.

Science has also discovered solid evidence of a genetic link to depression which is a rogue chromosome found in people with that condition. Nature or nurture?

The Power of Suggestion

While I do believe there is evidence to suggest a genetic predisposition for depression and a suicidal tendency in my case, I also think the power of suggestion and learned behavior comes into play strongly for me as well as a lack of adequate mental health coping skills. Because of my early exposure to it, suicide was always a legitimate option in my mind.

Suicide is socially contagious. Suicide contagion can spread through a school, a community, or the public as a celebrity “suicide wave.” When the media splashes the details of a suicide all over, copycat suicides follow. After Marilyn Monroe’s death in 1962, suicides for the month went way up, and suicides across the nation in white females in their 30s and 40s in the year after she died increased significantly. There was a similar uptick after Kurt Cobain died in 1994.

All of this scientific evidence comes as a bit of a relief to me – not because I am trying to find a justification for my suicide attempt, but because it helps me understand my actions more and have more compassion for myself. Hopefully, it will allow others to do the same for anyone attempting to or taking their own life and eventually lessen the stigmas associated with suicide and depression.

I can always hope.

12 Comments

  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, I have little doubt that the power of suggestion has a significant part to play. If nothing else, it creates options that present a rational approach or outcome to a specific problem – even to contemplate suicide. That begs, as you say, a more important question, which is whether the course of action is genetic or created by your environment (an at birth or learned behaviour). I am tempted to say that even genetic disorders are pushed over the edge by external influences and a feeling (pressure) of limited choice. The work of the Samaritans/ Befrienders Worldwide evidence this; the living anti-depressants/ defenders of positive choice and compassion. Take care. Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sorry, Stephen, someone commented ahead of you.. I know you like to be first!

      I totally agree with you. I do think it is a combination of suggestion, environment, and genetics all synchronistically culminating to a point where someone, unfortunately, feels pushed over the edge.

      SO MANY people say they have thought about it, but did not act. The planets have to line up just so and a good samaritan can certainly intervene and change the alignment ever so slightly, but enough to prevent it.

  2. Ande Waggener Reply

    Anything that helps you have more compassion for yourself is good information! I like to think we can outgrow both nature and nurture, but I also know we need to start where we are. 🙂

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Ande, so right you are! The way I see it, nature and nurture give us the starting point, then, at some point, we take the reigns and start to live consciously. The first step is becoming aware and knowing yourself – nature or nurture really does not really matter from here.

  3. I had not heard about this genetic evidence, so thanks for informing me. I worked as a volunteer in Crisis Intervention for seven years, so I knew that suicidal behavior often has a component of family pathology. Come to think of it, you and my ex-wife would probably get along well professionally. A few years after our divorce (which was 30 years ago) she earned credentials as a Suicidologist. She’s now one of the admins at the center where we were originally both volunteer counselors. If you would like her name, drop me an email. She’s an excellent counselor, one of the best I know.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Well…you returned the favor. I had never heard of a suicidologist. I could see myself doing something like that now. I think I have a unique perspective and understanding of suicide, but I also am aware that it is a very different situation for everyone.

      I would love to connect with her. She might be an excellent resource for my book (I am in the process of writing one now.) I will send you an email or Tweet you. Thanks!

  4. Debbie Hampton Reply

    Leslie, thank you for stopping by and sharing that link. Very strong information as to a genetic basis for depression. Maybe, just maybe, this can help start to lessen the cloud of shame around this issue.

    From my own experience, I know that the environment and learned behaviors can play a HUGE role here and can be the basis for someone going down the depressed path or not in life.

  5. Debbie,

    You touched on such an important point in this article > the way that information and scientific validation empowers us, helps us to know that we are not allow, and creates a basis for compassion towards our self. Our genetics are powerful. I personally feel it pays to understand them. However, in most cases, I think it’s a combination of genes and environment working together that influences us so strongly. Nevertheless, we can still take the reigns and direct our mind in a better direction if we have the right support and information. Thanks for another thought-provoking article.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sandra, thank you for sharing your insights. I know I was messed up. I have no doubt about that. However, like you suggest, learning the science behind what contributed to getting to that point does make me have more compassion for myself. I hope it eventually does the same for society at large with such issues.

      I have no doubt also that, even given a genetic predisposition for anything, we have tremendous power to influence and direct it by the way we live our lives and the way we choose to think.

      Both are incredibly empowering!

      • Good dialog, Thank you again for being you Deb,
        Keep up the great work! By the way, where is your Stumbleupon! handle or button?

        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          Leslie, thanks for the kind words. I will add the Stumbleupon button just for you! I have never used it and have not known anyone who does. Now, I do! 🙂

          • Debbie Hampton Reply

            The button to share on Stumbleupon is at the bottom in the block with all the others!

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