Predicting Suicides—Beyond STARRS

News Story from dana.org

Suicide Prevention

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Over the past few years, America has lost several celebrities, including actor/comedian Robin Williams and fashion designer Kate Spade, to suicide. It’s not a surprise: Suicide rates have been increasing across the board in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1.3 million people in the US attempted suicide in 2016 – and nearly 45,000 died. This is nearly a 25 percent increase from the numbers posted in 2000.

To help combat what is being called a problem of epidemic proportions, the Mental Health Research Network, led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente, has developed a computer model based on data collected during outpatient visits to help identify which patients may be at the most risk for killing themselves.

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Testing Teenagers and Examining Stress

Headshot-BlakemoreExams can be nerve-wracking to even the most prepared. In England, a roller coaster of emotions has been on display as the nation’s series of grueling public exams, the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE), were proctored earlier this summer. The highly anticipated test grades were finally made public last week, and while the unveiling of the results may have brought about much-needed relief for some, the pressure and preparation needed to do well for others branded the two-year journey with a relentless villain—stress.

The anxiety-inducing exam was the focus of a thought-provoking article in The Guardian that featured Dana Alliance member Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. The self-described champion of teenagers touches on the rash timing and the dread of the exams endured by the 15- and 16-year-olds during a period that she says is critical in a developing brain. From the interview:

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Brain’s Unconscious Loss Processing May Support Grief Resolution

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

Animated GIF-source

A whole-brain representation of the neural signature associated with processing the loss of a loved one. Activation of this signature in the absence of a conscious thought of the loss correlated with less severe grieving. (GIF courtesy of Noam Schneck; adapted with permission from Biological Psychiatry: CNNI 2018 in press.)

What might grief look like in the brain? Is there a neural “fingerprint” associated with thoughts of a loved one, conscious or otherwise? Does the frequency with which that fingerprint shows up have anything to do with whether or not a bereaved person is able to move on from the death of a loved one and resume normal daily activities?

As psychiatry grapples with how to differentiate “normal” grief from bereavement-related depression and otherwise complicated or prolonged grief, one young scientist is tackling these questions from an altogether different angle, looking inside the brains of people recently bereaved due to suicide to identify grief-related patterns of neural activity and to track how those patterns might affect grief resolution.

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From the Archives: Finding the Hurt in Pain

Pain has many varieties, and is notoriously difficult to describe, but in recent years researchers have made some progress in trying to measure it. A story in the New Yorker this summer by Nicola Twilley, “The Neuroscience of Pain,” describes the quest “to capture the experience in quantifiable, objective data,” especially imaging data.

Irene_TraceyTwilley details the research life of Irene Tracey at University of Oxford, including tools in her lab’s “pain room”: “All of them have been designed with the aim of reliably producing in laboratory conditions sensations that hurt enough to mirror real life but don’t cause lasting harm, which would be unethical. A scientist hoping to gather publishable data can’t just hit someone with a hammer and hope that each blow is as hard as the last one, even if an institutional ethics committee would permit such a thing.”

Tracey wrote a piece for us for Cerebrum in December 2016, “Finding the Hurt in Pain,” reviewing what we know so far about pain, including how mood affects it, the role of placebos, and potential neuroethical issues. One big change in recent decades is how we consider chronic pain, she writes:

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From the Archives: Seeking to Stem Suicide

suicide-statistic-2018-011.jpg

Nearly 45,000 people in the US kill themselves each year (probably an underestimate, given the stigma still attaching to suicide), and there may be 25 attempts for each death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. A news story we published in January reported on a few of the many avenues of research trying to help doctors and caregivers predict who is at risk and how to better help them.

“Suicide is one of the few medical conditions in which the doctor and patient have different goals—the patient may be highly motivated not to reveal what he or she is thinking,” psychiatrist Maria Oquendo says in the story. “We need biological markers so we can identify those at risk.”

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