Brain Scans May Have Spotted People Thinking About Suicide

TUESDAY, Oct. 31, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Brain scans may be able to identify when people are having suicidal thoughts, researchers report.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults in the United States, but suicidal risk is difficult to assess and predict.

This study included 17 people with known suicidal tendencies and a control group of 17 people without such tendencies. While in a brain scanner, the participants were presented with and asked to think about words relating to six concepts: death, cruelty, trouble, carefree, good and praise.

The researchers said an algorithm they developed was 91 percent accurate in identifying whether a person was from the suicidal or control group and 94 percent accurate in identifying people who had attempted suicide.

The study, published Oct. 30 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggests a new way to assess mental health disorders, according to the researchers.

"Our latest work is unique insofar as it identifies concept alterations that are associated with suicidal ideation and behavior, using machine-learning algorithms to assess the neural representation of specific concepts related to suicide," said study co-leader Marcel Just, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"This gives us a window into the brain and mind, shedding light on how suicidal individuals think about suicide and emotion-related concepts," Just added in a university news release.

He went on to say that what's "central to this new study is that we can tell whether someone is considering suicide by the way that they are thinking about the death-related topics."

But the researchers cautioned that further research is needed before this approach can be used to predict suicide risk.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on suicide prevention.

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