Is Serotonin to Blame?

I’m reading a book called Leaving Early: Youth Suicide by Bronwyn Donaghy and came across the following section, which I felt might be helpful to some people. The book was published in 1997, so further develops regarding the content may now be known. I haven’t done any extra research on this matter (at this stage).

Medical science has recently revealed that a catalyst which causes a depressed person to take their life may be a physical rather than a mental or emotional one. Autopsy studies have revealed that many people who have committed suicide have very low levels of serotonin in their brain.

New research suggests that low levels of this chemical may be the reason why some young people decide to die while others struggle on.

Dr Sheila Clark, a South Australian general practitioner and author of After Suicide: Help for the Bereaved who has been working in the area of support for those bereaved by suicide for the past ten years, explained that the brain is made of many nerve cells.

“Thought processes are created by micro-electrical impulses passing along a series of these nerve cells,” said Dr Clark. “Between each of these cells is a gap. When the impulse reaches the end of a nerve cell, this cell then sends out a little jet of serotonin to stimulate an impulse in the next cell, and so on.

“According to the autopsy studies, low serotonin levels have been found following suicide in people who suffered depression, schizophrenia and even after impulsive or apparently ‘spontaneous’ suicides.”

Researchers have also identified the fact that the centre of the brain where serotonin levels were registering as low is adjacent to that area of the brain which regulates inhibitive behaviour. This could mean that a person in despair is more likely to take that last fatal step if their brain’s ‘stop and think’ button is not getting the stimulation it needs to function correctly.

“With diabetes, the body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin so it can’t manipulate its sugar levels,” said Dr Clark. “In this case the brain does not produce adequate serotonin, so it has difficulty controlling thoughts. Because it is a physical condition over which nobody has any control, the knowledge that the person they have lost was suffering from low serotonin levels can be immeasurably helpful to bereaved families. It provides a no-fault, no stigma explanation for why the person took their own life.”

Medical science now needs to find out more about the control of serotonin and effective ways of raising its levels. One theory is that severe stress decreases serotonin. It is also possible that genetics might play a part in the fact that some people are more susceptible to low levels of serotonin than others.

Excerpt from Leaving Early: Youth Suicide
by Bronwyn Donaghy

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