A Finger Prick Could Help Prevent Suicide

When I was a kid, I remember thinking getting my finger pricked at the doctor’s office was a type of torture the nurses sickly enjoyed that had no actual benefit to my health. It wasn’t until I understood more about components in the blood that could be indicators of serious health conditions that I stopped questioning every single needle that was intended to draw blood. Recently, a new possible reason to collect a blood sample has emerged that has me strongly supporting the medical use of needles.

In late July, Marisa Taylor (2014) presented an article detailing how a research group at John Hopkins have found a genetic factor that can be used to predict the presence of suicidal thoughts. The gene is called SKA2, a key player in handling responses to stressful situations. A mutation in this gene can predict suicidal ideation in 80% of cases. The detection of the mutated gene is in more accurate at predicting suicide attempts, showing up in 90% of participants who had attempted suicide at least once. The hope is to eventually do more research with this gene and other possibly predictors of suicidal thoughts and behavior in order to put together a plan for early prevention, possibly even by using a simple blood test.

There are several reasons why this would have a major impact on the way we manage people who suffer from suicidal ideations and tendencies. The article points out a possible use in helping reduce the high rate of suicides in military veterans and formulate treatment plans for newly admitted psychiatric patients. Another study points out genetic testing can help decide if emerging suicidal behavior is a side effect of a misdiagnosis and a poor treatment plan or a genetic mutation being activated (Mullins et al, 2014).

While some people, including myself, are supporters of continuing research in this field, others pose some questions that are hard to ignore. Could the knowledge of a genetic predisposition to suicidal behavior lead to increased feelings of hopelessness, a sense that a suicide attempt is inevitable? Or could testing positive for the genetic mutation lead to a stricter, more intense treatment regimen used for patients who don’t necessarily need such heightened precautions?


Mullins, N., Perroud, N., Uher, R., Butler, A. W., Cohen‐Woods, S., Rivera, M., & … Lewis, C. M. (2014). Genetic relationships between suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and major psychiatric disorders: A genome‐wide association and polygenic scoring study. American Journal Of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 165(5), 428-437. doi:10.1002/ajmg.b.32247

Taylor, Marisa. (2014, July 30). Scientists discover genetic marker that predicts suicide risk. Retrieved from america.aljazeera.com

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