HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

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

Valentina, 12, and her mom Monica Lopez talk about the wait for a therapist....
Ashley Moser, KSL TV

Bridging the treatment gap: Solutions for families waiting to connect a teen with a therapist

The average wait for a mental health care provider for a new patient referral in Utah is between two to six months. But experts say there are tools available to help bridge the treatment gap.
3 days ago
(KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson, KSL TV

Teens need to learn early about the signs of abusive relationships

Advocates said it's important for young people to start learning about good and bad relationships early.
3 days ago
Lauryn Batista uses scribbles to help illustrate how she feels sometimes. (KSL TV)...
Peter Rosen, KSL TV

Visualizing the Conversation about Mental Health

Southern Utah University art student Lauryn Batista wants to talk about scribbles. That’s how she visualizes the anxiety and depression she’s dealt with for the past few years.
3 days ago
...
Shara Park, KSL TV

Weber School District creates Happiness Hotline

Need a pick me up, life advice, or words of encouragement? Try calling the Happiness Hotline (833-88-HAPPY), a free resource created by students and faculty in the Weber School District.
3 days ago
...
KSL TV

Kids In Crisis: Supporting your children with the right conversations

If you're the parent to teenage kids, you know getting them to talk isn't always easy -- and yet they need your help now more than ever.
3 days ago
This summer, every state will be rolling out 988 as the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline nu...
Jacqueline Howard, CNN

States prepare for summer launch of new 988 suicide prevention number

This summer, every state will be rolling out 988 as the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number to call for mental health crises — similar to how people can call 911 for medical emergencies.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Make Money Online Easily...

4 Ways that You Can Make Money Online Easily in Just a Few Clicks

Here are 4 ways that you can make money online easily in no time at all! Some are as simple as just a few clicks away.
tips to winterize your home...
Bonneville Digital SLC

Tips to Winterize Your Home | The Top 5 Ways You Can Prepare for the Cold Utah Winter Ahead

Before the snow hits, here are the top 5 tips to winterize your home to prepare for the cold Utah winter this year.
Utah scientists identifying genes that may increase risk to suicide