Utah scientists identifying genes that may increase risk to suicide

Sep 6, 2021, 8:43 PM | Updated: Sep 7, 2021, 6:30 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists are discovering some of the mysteries behind suicide.

The latest research at University of Utah Health strengthens the family link to suicide.

They’re identifying genes that may increase risk.

Dr. Eric Monson’s research is personal.

“It drives me in this,” said Monson, a chief resident psychiatrist at University of Utah Health. “She was 15 there, in high school.”

He lost his sister to suicide.

“I still remember, very clearly, being called down to the principal’s office and my parents were in tears,” he said.

His work is a legacy of love.

“Just be able to ultimately prevent others from having to suffer the same thing,” said Monson.

Suicide risk is partially heritable, experts say.

“There are spots in the human genome that appear to confer some risk,” said Monson.

In a large study, Monson and his team at the U. hope to identify gene variants and other genetic mutations to help better understand who may be genetically at risk.

They believe changes in the way neural transmitters communicate, and a gene that helps regulate synapse activity in the brain, could elevate the risk.

Also, a genetic predisposition for post-traumatic stress disorder among people who have bipolar disorder may also increase the risk.

“Those who have these genetic predispositions likely have a poor response to stress or less able to tolerate it,” Monson said.

Suicide is 10 to 30 times higher for people with bipolar disorder, according to University of Utah Health.

“It’s suspected that, because of this reduced ability to tolerate stress or to recover from it, that they end up with longer-term illness,” he said.

Monson hopes the research leads to better screening, and that it becomes valuable for families like Amanda and Abbi McIntosh, who live in Helper.

“She was the last gift that he could give me,” said Amanda McIntosh, a suicide loss survivor.

Brian McIntosh — Amanda’s husband and the father of their 8-year-old daughter, Abbi — died from suicide seven years ago.

“She was definitely the brightest spot in his life,” said Amanda.

Brian’s mother also took her own life.

“Just by looking at those smiles, you wouldn’t have any idea,” Amanda said, referring to photos of her late husband and mother-in-law. “My husband was a great guy.”

Abbi McIntosh said, “I do feel the presence of his soul sometimes. When he is happy and proud of me, he gets in my dreams. He’s still in my heart.”

But, Monson said genes don’t have to determine destiny.

“It is inherently preventable. It’s a terrible outcome that steals so much opportunity, so much life from a person, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

They’re digging deeper in hopes of saving lives.

Therapists say the most important thing you can do to prevent suicide is to reach out to let your loved ones know they’re not alone.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online resources

In an emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room

If you or someone you love needs help, call the Utah Crisis Line at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. Or call the Utah Warm Line 833-SPEAKUT for anyone who may need a listening ear as they heal and recover from their own personal struggles.

For real-time emotional support and crisis prevention for students, parents and educators, chat with a licensed counselor for support from your smartphone, download the Safe UT Chat and Tip app.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Healthy Mind Matters

Tamara Vaifanua

Salt Lake Co. offers workshop for teens struggling with body image

For the first time, Salt Lake County Youth Services is offering a free workshop for teens who struggle with body image issues.
11 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Matt Rascon

KSL+ One man’s heart-shaped mission to prevent suicide

Mental health challenges continue across the state. This week, the story of one man’s mission to prevent suicide with reminders that people matter.
18 days ago
Ayanna Likens

You can call or text new mental health resource (988)

The nation’s newest mental health resource isn’t just a phone call service – you can text it, too.
1 month ago
The number for the national suicide prevention hotline, 988....
Ayanna Likens

Utah’s connection to a national 3-digit suicide prevention hotline

It will soon be easier than ever to connect with mental health professionals across the country during a crisis as the three-digit phone number, 988, launches this Saturday.
1 month ago
Posters at the Department of Health and Human Services offers advice on preventing and getting over...
Jed Boal

How community postvention tool kit helps communities after a suicide

How our communities respond after a suicide death matters and that's why the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition created an online tool kit to help.
1 month ago
LGBTQ teens at an Encircle activity....
Ashley Moser, KSL TV

Parents’ support key to mental health among LGBTQ+ youth, experts say

Nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. live with a mental health condition. In the LGBTQ+ community, that number is three times higher. Experts say family support is crucial to an adolescents’ mental health.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Utah scientists identifying genes that may increase risk to suicide