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Utah researchers explore biological causes of suicide

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 15:14:01-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Newly released data from the Utah Department of Health and Human Services shows more Utahns are struggling with their mental health, with 717 Utahns dying by suicide in 2022, a 12 percent increase from the preceding year.

It’s a trend that researchers in Utah are actively trying to reverse.

Among them is Dr. Hilary Coon, a psychiatry professor at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute in Salt Lake City.

FOX 13 News talked with Coon about a recently-published study that she co-authored, which explores biological factors that can contribute to suicide deaths and attempts.

They analyzed data from 22 different populations around the world in their research.

“Suicide is, in my mind, just like any other type of complex disease; like cancer, like diabetes, like heart disease,” Coon explains.

“This study pulls out the piece of the puzzle that's genetic."

According to Coon, the study findings show a dozen genetic variations associated with a risk of attempting suicide.

Those genetic variations have also been linked to health issues that include chronic pain, impulsivity, ADHD, pulmonary conditions, heart disease, and smoking.

“This doesn't necessarily mean that if you have one of those conditions that you’re destined to become suicidal . . . this is such a complicated situation. What we're saying is that this may be linked to some vulnerability in some individuals,” explains Coon.

While she looks at this study’s findings as a great first step, the genetic piece of the puzzle isn’t as impactful without taking into account the environmental and social stressors that can also be contributory factors in suicide.

Resources available to individuals who are or know someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide include the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, SafeUT, and mobile crisis outreach teams.