5 Recent JCP Research Studies On Suicide

by Liz Neporent
March 4, 2024 at 10:05 AM UTC

Studies reveal links between suicide risk and factors like genetics, sleep meds, and promising treatments like laughing gas.

Clinical Relevance: Innovations in targeted interventions and personalized treatments may help reduce suicide risk

  • Teens with depression showing suicidal thoughts often have altered brain function related to specific gene markers.
  • AI can predict suicide risk by analyzing Facebook images for signs like sadness and loneliness.
  • Sleep meds DORA and Z-drugs are linked to increased suicidal thoughts.
  • Men and older individuals face higher suicide risks for at least one year after a first attempt.
  • Nitrous oxide significantly might reduce suicidal thoughts in treatment-resistant depression as well as ketamine.

On average, 30 people or more die by suicide each year by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. A new suicide-prevention mesh net just placed beneath the bridge will serve as a physical barrier to save lives and prevent further tragedies.

While the bridge has been one of the deadliest suicide locations in the world, most people who consider ending their own lives choose some other method. Firearms, poisoning, suffocation, and hanging are the most common ways Americans take their lives.

The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has published five important studies in the past year exploring different clinical aspects of suicide. Here are summaries as well as links to these studies for further review. 

Brain Function and Gene Changes Relate to Suicidal Thoughts in Teens with Depression

Why do teens with depression think about suicide? Could specific genes related to brain function play a role?

Chinese researchers followed 66 teenagers experiencing their first bout of depression, tracking them before and after six weeks of antidepressant treatment. The analysis showed that those thinking about suicide often had poorer problem-solving skills (executive function) and different chemical tags on a particular gene (MSK1 methylation) compared to those who didn’t have suicidal thoughts.

This suggests that gene changes related to difficulties with executive function could help predict which teens with depression might develop suicidal thoughts.

AI Can Analyse Social Media Images to Predict Suicide Risk

A multi-national team of researchers analyzed 177,220 images posted by 841 Facebook users who’d been assessed for suicide risk over several months using a high-tech tool called CLIP (Contrastive Language-Image Pre-training) to analyze the photos for specific features, like sadness, dark thoughts, and loneliness.

The model achieved a notable Area Under the Curve (AUC) score of 0.72, which is a measure of its ability to distinguish between users at different levels of suicide risk. The hybrid model significantly outperformed both traditional deep learning models and a random baseline.

The hybrid model effectively identified signs of suicide risk by analyzing social media images and reliably assessed the likelihood of suicide risk.

The Link Between Sleep Medication and Suicide Risk

In this study, French researchers analyzed The World Health Organization (WHO)’s vast database of more than 34 million cases of adverse reactions to medications, focusing on those related to suicide or self-harm. They specifically examined the connection between Dual Orexin Receptor Antagonists (DORA), a type of sleep medication, and reports of suicidal thoughts and actions.

Using a measurement known as the Information Component (IC), the researchers discovered that cases of suicidal ideation occurred 1.2 times per thousand for DORA and 9.8 times per thousand for the Z-drugs group. When patients stopped taking these medications, more than half reported a decrease in suicidal thoughts—59.3 percent for DORA and 66 percent for Z-drugs.

Both DORA and Z-drugs were linked to a higher frequency of suicidal thoughts. In contrast, the benchmark drug, acetaminophen, showed no association with suicidal ideation.

Suicide Risk and Overall Death Rate Within a Year After a Suicide Attempt

The VigilanS suicide prevention program tracked 7,406 individuals who attempted suicide between 2017 and 2018, focusing on their fate. It found that 1.7 percent (125 people) died within a year following their suicide attempt, with 77 of these deaths by suicide.

Most of these deaths occurred within the first four months of the first attempt. The prevalent methods of suicide were hanging (20.3 percent) and self-poisoning (19.5 percent). Men and people over the age of 45 were at the highest risk whereas those younger than 25 were at the lowest risk for another suicide attempt.

The findings underscore the critical need for vigilant follow-up and support in the initial months after a suicide attempt.

“Laughing Gas” Shows Promise in Lowering Thoughts of Suicide in Hard-to-Treat Depression

Nitrous oxide – also known as N2O or laughing gas – is traditionally used for anesthesia in dental and maternity care.

In this Washington University School of Medicine study, scientists pooled data from three clinical trials to explore N2O’s effectiveness in reducing thoughts of suicide among adults with major depressive disorder who hadn’t responded to at least three different antidepressants.

Participants inhaled a mixture of 50 percent N2O and 50 percent oxygen, comparing it to a placebo (air/oxygen mix) across different sessions. The key measure was a significant drop in suicidal thoughts, defined as a decrease of at least two points on a depression scale, 24 hours after inhaling N2O.

The results were promising – and similar to those seen with ketamine. More than half of the subjects in the N2O group experienced a meaningful reduction in suicidal thoughts, compared to just 12 percent in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that the gas could be a rapid and effective treatment for reducing suicidal ideation in those with tough-to-treat depression.

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