Huntsman Mental Health Institute leads world’s largest genetic study of suicide

Sep 6, 2023, 7:23 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute are leading the largest genetic study of suicide in the world. Twenty-two countries are participating in the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC).

“We started out with genetic information just from Utah and then we expanded to other states, other countries and we started to find more and more genes,” said Anna Docherty, PhD who helps lead the global research as Co-Chair of the Suicide Working Group of the PGC. “Suicide is not just depression. Other risk factors play a big role. So, for example ADHD, impulsivity, alcohol use all play significant roles increasing someone’s risk for suicide.”

DNA and data on all suicide deaths in Utah are collected by the Medical Examiner’s Office. Brandon Callor is the Morgue Operations Manager and helps conduct the psychological autopsies.

“Years ago, when we began it was hard to dial the phone and wonder what kind of response I was going to get,” Callor said. “As we continued interview after interview, people thanked me. It’s therapeutic. It gave them an opportunity to talk about their loved one.”

Callor’s own family has experienced suicide loss. In 2014 his wife’s brother died by suicide. Two years later, her cousin also died by suicide. Then in 2019 they lost her sister to suicide. Soon after her other sister attempted suicide.

“I think of all the families that are experiencing this and I understand the terror and the constant worrying because clearly, it’s in the family,” Brandon’s wife Katy said.

The DNA of Katy Callor’s siblings has been studied by the PGC. She is hopeful their research will help save lives.

“I could wallow in self-pity because I’ve lost so many people, but I know there is so much we can do and there’s so much we can learn,” Katy Callor said.

One thing Callor said she has learned is that talking about suicide can save lives. “The basic gist of it is to be open, direct, and communicative. When I talk about my sister that attempted one of the reasons, we were able to catch her so quickly is she knew she could reach out and so she did.”

The Callor family will be among hundreds of other families participating in the Out of Darkness Walk to prevent suicide this Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park in West Jordan.

“There’s something cathartic about saying this is me. This is how it impacts me. Everybody is experiencing suicide loss and recovery in a different way, but we are all there together to help support other people to they don’t have to through what we’ve gone through,” Katy Callor said.

The PGC’s research findings will soon be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call, text, or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

All calls to legacy crisis hotlines, including the old National Suicide Prevention hotline, 1-800-273-8255, will also connect to a crisis care worker at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute as well.

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Huntsman Mental Health Institute leads world’s largest genetic study of suicide