Suicide is one of the most bizarre and shocking things that human beings can engage in.
A study of the brains of victims of suicide has opened up more vistas in understanding this phenomenon. Reports from various agencies keep pointing to an increase in the rate of suicide, with the United States and other first world having some of the most disturbing figures. But the main question remains as intriguing as ever: what makes people commit suicide?
Recent studies in the field of neuroscience suggest that the neurological transformations in the brains of the individuals who have taken their own lives are very different from the brains of other people. It was also noticed that these transformations did not just happen at all once but over time, all through their lives.
It is agreed upon that the most frequent path to people taking their own lives is depression. This is the reality of two-thirds of those who ended their lives with their own hands. In 2009, researchers in Canada discovered that those who suffered depression then ended up committing suicide had an unusually high level of receptors in the brain for a chemical called GABA. This chemical is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. The work of this chemical is to inhibit the activities in the brain cells.
The scientists who made this discovery also discovered that one of the many receptors for GABA is not very present in the part of the brain called the frontopolar cortex of those with severe conditions of depression which later committed suicide when compared with those who died from other conditions without depression.
This discovery is important because this cortex is responsible for higher mental functions like thinking about decisions and other similar cognitive processes. Even though the researchers cannot explain precisely how this anomaly can trigger severe depression which can then lead to suicide, what is certain is that the disturbance in the brain structure and function has something to do with the eventual depression and suicidal outcome.
The interesting thing here is that the GABA receptor issue does not even stem from genetic problems like a mutation. It is more of the environmental factors that influence the expression of the genes. Studies show that in the brains of suicide victims in the frontopolar cortex, the gene that coded for the GABA receptor typically had a methyl group linked to it. Whenever a methyl group is seen linked to a gene, it ensures that the gene is kept from protein-building mechanisms and this means that the cells are not able to come up with the GABA receptors thus jeopardizing function.
The inclusion of the methyl group is referred to as methylation and it is seen primarily in rats that have been in contact with human beings that the ones that have had no contact whatsoever with humans. It does not know fully what leads to the methylation in the brains of human beings but some studies have pointed to child abuse as one of the likely causative factors.
It is also clarified that the gene behind the creation of the protein-building mechanisms has a higher rate of methylation in the hippocampus. The important thing about this detail is that the hippocampus is the part of the brain that is concerned with short-term memory alongside spatial navigation and in those who committed suicide after bouts of depression.
Once again, it is instructive to clarify at this juncture that the scientists do not know for a fact how the issues with the synthesis of proteins can initiate depression then lead to suicide. However, it is reasonable to draw a connection between the synthesis of protein and the proper functioning of the neurons. The thought is that these proteins or the connections between the neurons that they maintain may be necessary for ensuring that we remain happy and cheerful.
Factors from the environment can influence the brain’s cells even as it is developing in the womb in a way that scientists believe can trigger a pattern that can eventually end in suicide as an adult. Scientists in February 2008 studied the phenomenon and discovered that male babies born with diminished height or even reduced weight at birth stand a higher chance of ending up as violent and suicidal adults than the bigger and heavier babies no matter the height and weight later in life as adults. The same thing applied to those who were born as premature babies than those who were delivered at complete term.
One of the latest suggestions in this field by scientists is that the chemical called serotonin may also play a role as it is one of the factors controlling the brain’s growth in the womb. Stress can hinder the development of the brain and serotonin production. Even though scientists are still working hard to understand all the mysteries behind this phenomenon, it is clear that progress has been made.
It is hoped that we will know enough about suicide one day in the future to prevent it from happening using the right measures.