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Is suicide a genetic phenomenon?

After years of debate among researchers, most now agree that suicide can run in the family. Some believe that this is a gene that is responsible for a tendency to impulsive aggression. For people whose many family members have committed suicide, the reason for the actions does not matter, but the fact that they are left alone in the world, with the horrible option resounding

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First his mother killed herself, with a gun in a hotel room. Then his brother, shot with a rifle in the basement. Then his second brother, through poisoning in the hostel. Fourth was his beautiful sister, serving herself in her bedroom. Three years ago, his father turned a gun on himself, leaving Alan Boyd Jr. alone in the world with a dark family history.

Boyd, a North Carolina resident, never pointed a gun at himself or put it in his mouth. At the age of 45, he is actually thinking about meeting a beautiful woman and starting a family. But he is aware that he is a member of the Boyd family: for a period after his father's death, the thoughts crept into his mind every five minutes, repeating themselves, disturbing his sleep. "It's inside me," he said.

Tendency to impulsive aggression

According to the report in the "Boston Globe", psychiatrists now agree on a point that was controversial in the past: suicide can run in the family. It is still not clear how the risk passes from one family member to another, whether it is a learned behavior, or genetic inheritance, as some scientists believe.

A new study published this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry prepares the ground for a genetic test, according to which the cause of families with many suicide cases is not just mental illness, but a mental illness related to a more specific tendency to "impulsive aggression". The scientists hope that if the risk factors are identified, a more effective intervention in the tendency to commit suicide will be possible.

Dr. David Burnett, one of the authors of the study, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, encountered the issue when he worked in a psychiatric ward for teenagers.

Serotonin plays a role

In recent years, researchers have come close to receiving additional signs of suicide. In post-mortem examinations of people who committed suicide, it was found that they had a low level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved, among other things, in impulse control.

In search of a genetic common denominator, researchers are drawn to families with high suicide rates. When Margo Hemingway's death was ruled a suicide from an overdose of pills in 1996, she was the fifth member of the family to do so, in four generations: her grandfather, the famous writer Ernest Hemingway, his father Clarence, Ernest's sister Ursula, and his brother Leicester.

In a study conducted among the Amish community, it became clear that half of the suicide cases that occurred in the last century, 26 in number, occurred in two extended families and 73 percent of the cases were related to four families, which constituted only 16 percent of the general population among the people of the community.

The message: "Don't do this to your family"

For Alan Boyd, as for many family members of people who have committed suicide, the genetic explanation is less important than the severe impact of his mother's death on his life. When she shot herself in the hotel room, Boyd said, family members were divided in their reactions: his father strongly criticized what she had done, while his brother Michael immediately said he wanted to join her, and he did so a month later, at 16 years old.

His twin brother Mitchell made suicide attempts for a long time. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and eventually died in a hostel, aged 36, after drinking toxic chemicals. Boyd's sister, Ruth Ann, married and had a son, Ian, who was two years old when she shot him and then herself, at the age of 37. Four months later, the father committed suicide.

Boyd said he himself tried to kill himself three times. "She sowed a seed in each of us. My mother's act gave us all the option," he said. "Man is a social animal, we depend on each other. I want to convey the message: if you can, get through life somehow, don't put your family through this suffering." Boyd is being treated by a psychologist as well as anti-depressants and is doing well today. "If I marry a happy and positive woman, maybe we can win this," he hopes.

Prof. Israel Or-Bach from Bar Ilan won the prize for his research on suicide
The brain savant

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