Mental Health Conditions and Suicide


         Mental Health Conditions and Suicide

                For far too long, we have been placing our minds on the back burner.  Scientific research has come a long way, with discoveries into the causes, treatments, and cures for many diseases.  This is a wonderful thing.  We now have sound treatments for heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and many other conditions deemed ‘physical’. However, we have left out the one organ that controls all of the other organs.  This is the brain.  I’m not speaking about treating brain tumors and other ‘physical’ conditions.  I’m speaking of something far more elusive; the mind.

            Much has been talked about in the realm of situational and environmental causes for mental health conditions. However, not much light has been shed onto the biological factors and genetic causes for these diseases.  We must explore the ‘science behind’ mental health conditions and suicide.  When we take a serious look into the roots of these disabling conditions, we just might be able to end the suffering.

           We must place far more focus into researching the brain.   Why has it taken us so long ?

Roots of Major Depression Revealed in Genetic Complexity

In this post, I will basically recite what the author has already written. I believe the article speaks for itself, and in very relatable terms.

A massive genome-wide association study (GWAS) of genetic and health records of 1.2 million people from four separate data banks has identified 178 gene variants linked to major depression, a disorder that will affect as many as one in every five people during their lifetimes.

The results of the study, led by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) researchers at Yale University School of Medicine and University of California-San Diego (UCSD), may one day help identify people most at risk of depression and related psychiatric disorders and help doctors prescribe drugs best suited to treat the disorder.

The study was published May 27 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

For the study, the research team analyzed medical records and genomes collected from more than 300,000 participants in the V.A.’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), one of the largest and most diverse databanks of genetic and medical information in the world.

These new data were combined in a meta-analysis with genetic and health records from the UK Biobank, FinnGen (a Finland-based biobank), and results from the consumer genetics company 23andMe. This part of the study included 1.2 million participants. The researchers crosschecked their findings from that analysis with an entirely separate sample of 1.3 million volunteers from 23andMe customers.

When the two sets of data from the different sources were compared, genetic variants linked to depression replicated with statistical significance for most of the markers tested.

“What is most heartening is we could replicate our findings in independent data sets,” said Daniel Levey, an associate research scientist in the Yale Department of Psychiatry and co-lead author. “Replication is a hallmark of good science, and this paper points to just how reliable and stable results from GWAS studies are becoming.”

Like many mental health disorders, depression is genetically complex and is characterized by combinations of many different genetic variants, the researchers say.

Joe Gelernter, the Foundations’ Fund Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, professor of genetics and of neuroscience, and co-senior author of the study said, “That’s why we weren’t surprised by how many variants we found.” He went on to say that “We don’t know how many more there are left to discover — hundreds? Maybe even thousands?”

The authors of the study say that the size of the new GWAS study will help clinicians to develop a polygenic risk score (meaning a continuous distribution, such as height or skin color) which will pinpoint those most at risk of developing major depression and other related psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study also provides deep insights into the underlying biology of genetic disorders. For instance, one gene variant implicated in depression, NEGR1, is a neural growth regulator active in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain previously linked to depression. This confirms research done by the late Yale neuroscientist Ronald Duman on the role of neurotrophic factors in depression.

Insights into the functions of the variants can also help identify many drugs that hold promise in the treatment of depression, the researchers say. For instance, the drug riluzole, which is approved for the treatment of ALS, modulates glutamate transmission in brain. Several gene variants linked by the new study to depression affect the glutamate system, which is actively being studied for depression treatments.

“One of the real goals of the research is bringing forward new ways to treat people suffering from depression,” added co-senior author Dr. Murray Stein, staff psychiatrist at the V.A. San Diego Healthcare System and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at UCSD.

Research was primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including the Million Veteran Program and the Cooperative Studies Program. Levey also received support from a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Familial Risk and Heritability of Diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is something I began reading about decades ago when working on my counseling degree. Unfortunately, there was no real scientific research on BPD at the time.  Everything I read in the DSM about the possible causes of BPD was based on the belief that those who suffered with BPD had caregivers who abandoned, abused, or neglected them in some way during childhood. 

Now, decades later, genetic research has come into play, and has given us some promising data that there is a genetic component to Borderline Personality Disorder.  Other research has suggested that there is a neurological basis for some of the symptoms, that brain chemicals helping regulate mood may not function properly in individuals diagnosed with BPD. Environmental factors, such as traumatic life events – physical or sexual abuse during childhood, neglect, and separation from parents—are at increased risk of developing BPD.

For those who may not have heard of Borderline Personality Disorder, it is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. A person with BPD may have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and may have difficulty tolerating being alone. However, inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though those with the disorder want to have loving and lasting relationships.

A clinical trial, published in June, 2019 (issued in March, 2021), gives us the first ‘total-population’ study of familial aggregation (occurrence of a trait shared by family members) and heritability of clinically diagnosed BPD. The study followed 1,851,755 individuals born between 1973–1993, in linked Swedish national registries.

This study concluded that the familial aggregation and heritability of Borderline Personality Disorder was estimated at 46%, with the remaining variance explained by non-shared environmental factors. Further studies are necessary in order to learn more about genetic factors and BPD. The time is ripe for identifying genetic variants associated with BPD through large scale genome-wide studies.  This will aide in helping to identify environmental risk factors, and how these may correlate or interact to increase the risk of BPD.

Latest Research Strengthens Link Between Genetics and Suicidal Behaviors

This latest research shows that suicide isn’t caused by one single factor or event. Several things have been pointed out in our current prevention strategies, but not until recently have we been exploring the genetic and epigenetic factors behind it.

The following is current research on the link between genetics and suicide. Many will recoil because they will feel guilty. I would say, “Why? Your genes are not your fault.” I would continue to say, “What IS shameful is to bury your head in the sand and pretend that mental health has nothing to do with genes.”

The only way we can combat any aggressive disease is to do research to find the causes, and once we have done this, to search for effective treatments and CURES. (like we have done for Cancer and so many other diseases) We must do the same for diseases of the mind. Please read the following eye-opening research.

What Can My Genes Tell Me About My Mental Health?

Mental health disorders are conditions that affect how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Our group refers to these conditions as brain diseases. They can impact a person’s life in significant ways, including how they cope with life events, earn a living, and relate to other people.

A burning question for patients and families is “Why did this happen?” This is a very common question for those suffering from a psychotic episode, a suicide attempt, or a diagnosis of a mental disorder. It’s an extremely prevalent question for those who have lost someone dear to suicide.

Research conducted and funded by the National institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found that many mental disorders (brain diseases) are caused by a combination of biological, environmental, psychological, and ‘genetic’ factors. In fact, a growing body of research has found that specific genes and gene variations are associated with mental disorders.

With this information, it seems obvious that we need far more genetic research into the causes of mental health conditions so we may help the many people who are suffering from these debilitating, and many times, fatal diseases. Where is the outcry for those who have died due to suicide and those who are at risk for suicide?

Please help us to push for a change – not only to remove stigma, but to put our money where our mouth is. That is to carry out research for the causes of these crippling diseases. Do your part. Contact your local legislators. And please visit us at Walt’s Waltz.

We all need your voices for change!

Change the Definition of Suicide

It’s been bothering me for a while that the definition of suicide assumes what’s in the minds of those who complete suicide. How can we possibly know what someone else is or was thinking? We can’t.

However, the NIH states: “Suicide is when people harm themselves with the goal of ending their life, and they die as a result.”

Do you see the error? We can not possibly know what someone’s actual goal is at the point of suicide. Many do not leave a note, so how can we say they wanted to die? For those who do leave a note, we can’t know the pain they are experiencing. From the research we now have, the vast majority of those who die by suicide do not want to die. They want to end their pain, and they see no other way out. They are suffering at the hands of a vicious invisible disease that’s as real as any cancer, heart disease, and all other ‘physical’ diseases. Many are going through a severe mental crisis and may not even realize what they are doing. So how can we talk about their goal ???

The definition would be far more accurate by saying,

“Suicide is the act or instance of taking one’s own life”. (Period)

Group – Cure Brain Disease

For those who are members on FaceBook – We have begun a group titled “Cure Brain Disease – Research for Mental Health Conditions” , and would like for anyone who is interested in exploring ways to further research into these brain conditions to please request to join. It’s far past time for us to advocate for change. Where is the Outcry to find cures for these debilitating brain diseases? We must push forward for a Moonshot for Mental Health!

Just Imagine

What if our minds were treated with the same respect as our bodies? Like the “War on Cancer” 50 years ago, just imagine if we would have had a “War on Mental Health Conditions and Suicide” …..

War on Cancer, 1971

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the December 1971 signing of the National Cancer Act, which led to the establishment of the National Cancer Program and significantly expanded the authorities and responsibilities of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Federal funding for cancer research has led to significant advances in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life for patients, leading to a record 16.9 million survivors of cancer alive in the United States today.”

Now, read this again and each time you see the word “Cancer“, replace it with the words “Mental Health Conditions and Suicide”. Cancer research is undoubtedly important. So is research for conditions of our minds – our brains. If we had treated our mental well-being with the same respect as cancer, just imagine the different world we would be living in today.

Those in Positions of Influence

Now, more than ever, we are hearing from people of influence about their mental health struggles. Actors, musicians, athletes, comedians, writers, and on and on. They are standing up for reducing the stigma attached to mental health diseases and suicide. They are sharing their own personal stories. They are founding their own organizations. This is a big step in the right direction, and I applaud them for their bravery.

But … there is a major discussion being left out, an ‘elephant in the room’ so to speak. The missing part? How do we get to the root of the problem so that we can actually ‘prevent’ these conditions (diseases) from causing so much suffering in the first place? How can we treat them or, better yet, stop them before they have the opportunity to advance to dangerous levels?

The answer to this question? Scientific research into our most important organ, the brain. We must find the genetic and biological causes for these diseases at a cellular level. Researchers are already finding specific genes linked to various brain disorders. However, much for research must be done in order to further these studies and to find ‘effective’ treatments and cures. In order to accomplish this, we need far more funding for research. Only in this way, can we really end the suffering.

Don’t get me wrong. We need to continue with the important conversations about safe spaces, stigma free zones, and encouragement for more and more people at risk to seek help. These are important steps in helping people to know that they are not alone and that they should not be ashamed. It will open the eyes of others to be more compassionate instead of being judgmental. And, hopefully, it will encourage our communities to take action in the area of mental health research.

Think about the medical advancements we’ve made over the years for those patients living with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Why aren’t we doing the same for people living with brain diseases? Lack of understanding, shame, and stigma all play a part. We need to continue our fight to end shame and stigma, and we need to advocate for more research to aid in our understanding of the brain.

Our group has an urgent plea for everyone, especially those in positions of influence. Please speak out about the tremendous need for research and the lack of funding for this research.

One more thing. Think of the difference one person of influence is making in the fight to end Parkinson’s disease; Michael J Fox. Who will be our Michael J Fox?

Those Who Have Lost Loved Ones

The following is a post from a member of the Alliance of Hope online support group; a worldwide group of suicide loss survivors. This message is one of the many messages received every day. The number of suicide victims has grown to approximately 48,000 lives per year in the US. There are over 20,000 registered loss survivors who are members of the Alliance of Hope. Far more loss survivors are struggling, and do not reach out to any type of support group due to the stigma that is attached to suicide. Please read carefully, as her voice speaks loudly for so many. We must push for people to listen and push for action.

From a member of the Alliance of Hope support group:

Emphasis should be placed on root causes of suicide. Monies should be going towards upgrading our mental health resources and just as we are required to have a primary care physician we should also be required to have a primary mental heath physician. If our medical doctors, insurance providers and government entities are not equipped to consider our mental health as an equal part of our overall health as physical health, then we will always be in the dark and asking why. Suicide enters all walks of life…..ALL…..not just the homeless, the poor, the traumatized, the addicted. To me those conditions are ALSO symptoms of an unhealthy or untreated or mistreated mental health history not the root causes. My husband completed suicide after a failed attempt. He found a way. I don’t believe he was an anomaly, I believe he had unresolved mental health issues, root causes that he and everyone around him from doctors, family, friends, to social entities and governmental entities, who were absolutely not equipped to recognize and treat his illness. That is why suicide is complex, that is why suicide happens, that is why we are all left thinking somehow it could have been prevented. Until this world wakes up to the realization that focusing and funding healthy mental health practices and research for all peoples, then I am afraid that suicide will continue on its dangerous path of increasing in death status. I am afraid but I also have hope.

Help to Move “Research of the Mind” Forward

“Another Call for Help”

We have an urgent request for you.  For decades, we have been experiencing a mental health crisis. This crisis is growing rapidly by the day.  While cures have been discovered for many physical health diseases, mental health conditions have been treated with a lack of respect.  What our scientific community has done is basically placed bandages onto gaping wounds, expecting them to hold.  It is finally coming to light that many mental health conditions could actually be brain diseases.  

The good news is there are many discoveries coming to the surface.  Recent discoveries have shown the possibility of various biomarkers which can potentially predict the onset of certain mental health conditions as well as suicidal behaviors.  Biomarkers would suggest a biological indicator (predisposition) for mental health conditions and suicide.  With this knowledge, it’s clear that genetics are responsible for predisposing many of us to mental health conditions.  In the same way genetics predisposes many to diabetes, genetics also predisposes many others to mental health conditions. 

Think of the advancements we’ve made in the area of diabetes and other diseases deemed as physical!   Why haven’t we done the same in the area of mental health ???  

The short answer is a lack of funding.  The sad, but true, answer is that many still believe mental health conditions aren’t as important as other conditions and diseases.

This is a shame, considering that approximately 20-25 percent of our population in the United States suffers from some form of a mental health condition, and considering that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in our young people ages 10-34, only following accidental deaths. Many reports state that suicide is under reported because of the stigma attached to it. If this is the case, which we believe to be so, suicide numbers are far higher than reported. The fact that our funding for research is so low is inexcusable.

(It’s important to note just how underfunded we are in this area.  According to the NIH data since 2008 on funding for all conditions and diseases, mental health conditions, as well as suicidal ideation, are funded at a far lower amount than physical diseases.) 

Within the past year, a group of us from different parts of the United States have begun to advocate for change.  Our group’s primary goal is to increase funding into finding the biological factors causing mental health conditions and suicide in hopes of discovering cures.  Our group currently is comprised of medical professionals, social services, teachers, a counselor and geneticist.  We have already begun our campaign to increase funding  by contacting and meeting with members of Congress from our states.

As a result of one of our meetings with a congressman, the congressional liaison for NIMH was contacted regarding federal research funding to investigate potential genetic and epigenetic biomarkers which could provide early diagnosis of mental health conditions.  NIMH is currently investigating our questions regarding the specific dollar amounts dedicated to discovery of biomarkers for mental health conditions. They have also forwarded our questions and concerns to Congresswoman DeGette.

In another meeting with a representative, we were put into contact with a medical university currently conducting research into genetics in relation to mental health conditions.  A separate meeting with another congressman resulted in a request to the appropriations committee for further funding into research.

Our group has had, and is continuing to have, other endeavors.  These include education on mental health issues in our schools, medical communities, and social communities to reduce stigma and to target mental health concerns early on.  Two of our members have also founded their own non-profit organizations: whose mission is to accelerate research in biomarkers for early diagnosis of high risk mental health conditions (MHC) and to develop novel targeted curative therapies based on molecular causes of MHC discovered through epigenetic and genetic research, and whose mission is to serve as a compass and a megaphone for mental health support, education, and change.

So, how can you help???       

Contact your local legislators to let them know that you are advocating for more funding to go into research into the biological causes of mental health conditions and suicide.  You can email them, request a meeting with them (either in person or virtual), request a telephone meeting with them, etc.  Let us know if we can be of help! 

Our members will gladly join you in attending a meeting with any legislator, if you would feel more comfortable.  As mentioned, we have already met with members of Congress in our areas, some in person and some via zoom.  If you would like a sample letter to your legislator(s), you can find one on this blog site, under the tab “What You Can Do”.   You may find it very useful to read our other blogs as well.

Please let us know, via our email,  if you have contacted your legislators so that we are aware of who has been contacted and who has not.  We are also providing a link so you may see who your area legislators are.  

One other request.  If you would like to join our group, please let us know!!!   We meet via zoom, and would love your input and help.  Any questions?  Don’t hesitate to write.  Thank you so much!