Brower knows the subject intimately. His brother died by suicide when both were in their teens. He recounted living in the years since then with a varying mixture of guilt, anger, relief, and fear—the collateral damage of a single suicide.
The ongoing nationwide tragedy of suicide takes the lives of 44,000 Americans a year and knows no geographic, demographic, or cultural bounds, APA President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., told the 100 or so people in attendance.
In fact, suicide claimed more American lives in 2015 than war, homicide, and natural disasters, added Christine Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Not all suicidal behavior is the same, and different types may have different symptomatic or neurobiological signatures, said Oquendo. Further research could help could tease out subtypes, explore heritable factors, and develop better screening tools. However, she noted, “One of the most surprising things about research budgets is that the research funding is not in line with morbidity and mortality.”
J. John Mann, M.D., a professor of translational neuroscience in psychiatry and radiology at Columbia University, has devoted much of his career researching suicide. He noted that 95 percent of suicides occur among people with some psychiatric illness, often depression and often untreated. Mann has conducted imaging studies showing how the structure and function of the brains of people who commit or attempt suicide differs from those of controls. The difference was expressed in their decision-making capacity—a trait that could be tested for and monitored as a preventive measure.
In addition to higher research budgets, improved access to mental health care—like that embodied in the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law the day before by President Barak Obama—could help chip away at the ongoing tragedy of suicide, concluded Oquendo.
For more in Psychiatric News about suicide prevention, see Group Unveils Strategy for Reducing Suicide Rate 20 Percent by 2025.
(Image: Aaron Levin/PN)