Stepping Out Blog

Brain Scans Can Locate Suicidal Behaviours in Young Adults


A report presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona has stated that abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex and related brain areas are observed in adolescents who have attempted suicide.

The study suggests that deficits in frontal systems may be associated with risk for suicide attempts in youths with mood disorders.

Most suicide attempts occur in the context of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

The report suggests that 25-50% of those affected attempt suicide; 15-20 % of individuals with the disorder die as a result, based on evidence provided at the US meeting.

Early intervention is needed as suicidal behaviour often first presents in adolescence. The development of new interventions, however, requires a better characterization of how features of brain structure and function are linked to the development of suicidal behaviours.

This Work Presents an Important First Step in Understanding Suicidal Thoughts

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Hilary Blumberg and colleagues at the Yale School of Medicine examined brain structure and function in adolescents and young adults, 14 – 25 years of age.

68 participants with bipolar disorder, of whom 26 attempted suicide, were compared with 45 healthy volunteers matched for age and gender.

The investigators found that, compared with bipolar patients who did not attempt suicide and healthy control subjects, the participants who attempted suicide showed less integrity of white matter in key frontal brain systems, including the uncinate fasciculus, a fiber tract that connects the frontal lobe with key brain areas that control emotion, memory and motivation.

Further, there were links between the circuitry deficits and suicidal ideation, the number of suicide attempts and the relative lethality of those prior suicide attempts.

This work presents an important first step in understanding the neurobiology of how suicidal thoughts and behaviours are generated and may facilitate earlier identification of individuals at risk and development of targeted interventions to stop suicide.

Is the surface of a major problem just being scratched with this research and what more can we expect to find out from other experiments like this in the future?

Please let us know your opinions in the comments below.

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