HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

University Of Utah Researchers Discover Genes Linked To Suicide

Nov 25, 2020, 8:54 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2020, 10:32 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Researchers at University of Utah Health’s Huntsman Mental Health Institute have detected more than 20 genes that may play a role in suicide.

The research is the first of its kind, and a Utah mother who is still grieving doesn’t find the results surprising.

Michelle Nelson stands in the bright kitchen of her 101-year-old house in Salt Lake City.

“Amethyst, opalite and crystal,” she said, picking up the small stones from a dish on the counter.

She collects them to help her heal because picking up the pieces after loss is daunting.

Michelle Nelson collects heart rocks to remind her of her son, Roan, who died by suicide. She says new research is giving her hope. (KSL-TV)

“I take Roan everywhere I go,” she said.

Nelson collects heart rocks — stones that naturally form into a heart shape which she finds outside.

“It’s like a gift from nature that reminds me of him,” Nelson said.

Two years ago, her 16-year-old son, Roan McClain, died by suicide.

“It was the biggest shock of my life,” she said. “You think your kids are always going to be okay.”

Her family has a history of suicide.

In a new study, researchers at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute discovered 22 genes that could have a role in suicide deaths. It establishes that suicide is partially heritable independent of a shared environment.

“We looked at over 3,400 samples of individuals who had lost their lives to suicide in Utah,” said Dr. Anna Docherty with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

The study, among the first comprehensive genome-wide analyses of suicide death, also found significant genetic cross-connections to psychiatric diseases and behaviors associated with suicide, researchers said.

“Understanding that there’s a strong genetic component will destigmatize the subject of suicide,” Docherty said.

The goal of the research is to inspire discussions among families and with their healthcare providers to know when to get support, Docherty said.

“If you have a family history of suicide, it really pays to learn about all the myriad risk factors and ways that you can really promote health in your family.”

For Nelson, it inspires hope.

“Maybe, if we could look at our kids and say, ‘Hey, you really are at risk. What can we do to get ahead of this?'” she said.

Scientists hope identifying these genes could lead to better predicting who’s at risk and finding better ways to help them.

In the meantime, Nelson continues to find comfort in nature, and her collection of heart rocks.
“When you lose someone close to you, your whole life changes,” she said. “You have to notice the little things. You have to go back to those small things, like the rocks.”

Next, researchers plan to dig into the molecular genetics of suicides to understand the links, and to find drug therapies.

If you or someone you love needs help, call the Utah Crisis Line at 801-587-3000.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Healthy Mind Matters

Parent Kristen Pexton said the SHARP survey gave an insight into what's happening with her teenager...
Mike Anderson

How helpful is Utah’s SHARP survey? Parents have just days to give input

Utah parents have one more week to give their feedback on the State Board of Education's decision to pull its support for the Student Health and Risk Prevention survey, otherwise known as SHARP.
2 months ago
...
Jed Boal

Love Hard Foundation making positive difference in Utah teens’ mental health

The Love Hard Foundation was started in January to make a positive difference in the mental and emotional health of Utah teens. Each week, the nonprofit is getting more involved in schools and communities.
2 months ago
Carla Jones, center, was joined by her daughter and a friend at the Out of the Darkness Walk in Wes...
Debbie Worthen

‘We miss her’: Annual Out of the Darkness Walk helps raise awareness of suicide

A crowd of thousands, and nearly $250,000 raised — all for the fight against suicide at the annual Out of the Darkness Walk in West Jordan Saturday morning
3 months ago
...
Ashley Moser

New nationwide 988 suicide and crisis hotline sees success in Utah

The new three-digit hotline has seen a 35% increase in calls from the old 10-digit number year-to-year.
3 months ago
Dana Clemmer shares photos of her daughter Talyn with KSL's Ayanna Likens. (KSL TV)...
Ayanna Likens

Life’s Worth Living Foundation supports those struggling with mental health and loss survivors

TOOELE, Utah — The Life’s Worth Living Foundation in Tooele has provided support for those struggling with their mental health and supporting them through the grief of losing a loved one. The foundation supported Deborah Bush after losing her son Jayden to suicide in January of 2021. “It’s definitely not easy,” Bush said. Jayden was […]
3 months ago
Intermountain healthcare launched a new mental health resource that will visit children and teens i...
Ayanna Likens

A new free mental health resource in Utah will visit children in their moment of crisis

Intermountain Healthcare launched a new mental health resource for children and teens. The Stabilization Mobile Response unit (SMR) is designed to go to your home in a discreet way to help your child in crisis. The service is free.
3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
University Of Utah Researchers Discover Genes Linked To Suicide