It can be difficult to predict when patients will develop symptoms of depression that are severe enough to lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts at taking their own life. In the U.S. one person dies by suicide every 13 minutes resulting in about 38,000 deaths each year. Psychologists must take efforts to determine which patients are more at risk so that they can prevent and reduce the number of deaths by suicide that happen so frequently in America. Health professionals may be able to utilize new and more effective ways to predict suicide risk based on recent research in the field of psychology.
New studies suggest that certain blood biomarkers, in conjunction with a questionnaire, can identify with more than 90 percent accuracy patients who will suffer from suicidal thoughts in the following year. This potential method of predicting suicide ideation before it occurs can help patients get adequate care before they reach any level of danger.
Blood Biomarkers for Risk Assessment
The new research could be a big step forward for psychologists looking to improve the lives of their patients and be more aware of warnings signs that could lead to suicide. The goal of the study was to be able to identify people who are at risk early on so that psychiatrists can employ simple interventions and lifestyle innovations to change the trajectory before it turns to tragedy. Health care professionals can make sure these at-risk patients are reducing stress, getting more sleep, and receiving proper treatment and medication.
The study began with 217 male patients receiving psychiatric treatment who provided multiple blood samples over time at periods when they felt suicidal and other periods where did not feel suicidal at all. Researchers studied the blood samples to identify changes in gene expression correlated with suicidal or non-suicidal feelings. They compared the blood biomarkers in the study with the markers present in the blood of 26 suicide victims and then narrowed them to the most significant.
Identifying Risk Factors through Questionnaires
Along with the blood samples used in the study, researchers also developed a questionnaire assessing suicide risk which they made into an app. While the app did not directly ask if patients were considering suicide it identified various other risk factors which the patients would be more likely to share openly. The questionnaire was given to patients who had previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and researchers watched them to see if they developed any suicidal thoughts or were hospitalized for suicide attempts.
The results of the study proved that the combination of the biomarkers and the app’s questionnaire made it possible to predict suicidal thoughts with as much as 92 percent accuracy. The technique was even stronger for patients with bipolar disorder predicting suicidal ideation with 98 percent accuracy and hospitalization with 94 percent accuracy. The biomarkers used within the context of other risk factors determined through the questionnaire were able to identify patients with a very high risk of suicide.
The results of the study could prove beneficial by allowing health care professionals to create a more accurate risk assessment test for their patients to determine their risk for suicide. The biomarkers could also be used in emergency rooms to allow doctors to decide when injuries or overdoses have been intentional suicide attempts. More studies are being done to extend the research to women and people in the general population who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Researchers are optimistic that this type of risk assessment could be highly effective at treating issues of suicide early enough to prevent the tragic deaths of many patients.