Is it ever possible to pinpoint before it’s too late those, like Brett, at risk of suicide? Dr Zachary Kaminsky, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is at the forefront of efforts to identify what has colloquially been termed a “suicide gene”. “Stress is like driving,” Kaminsky says. “You can drive really fast, and that can be useful, but you have to be able to slow down.” His team compared brains of those who died by suicide and those who didn’t. They had an inkling that for those who died by suicide, a gene called SKA2 might be, in effect, acting as a faulty brake pad, failing to control stress.
By looking at just this single gene, Kaminsky’s team was able to predict with 80-90% accuracy whether an individual in their research group had thoughts of suicide or had made an attempt. More research is needed, but signs are positive that in the future a simple blood test may provide at least some indication of suicide risk. Whether SKA2 could also shed light on gender differences in suicide is not yet clear. “It is linked with the cortisol system and this system does interact with the oestrogen system,” mused Kaminsky, “so I suppose it’s possible”.