Medical breakthrough or oversimplification?
Biology cannot be destiny
Scientists at Indiana University in the US claim to have pinpointed a molecule in the bloodstream that identifies people intent on taking their own life. They claim that raised levels of this biomarker can predict and thereby prevent suicide attempts.
Even mental health professionals specifically trained in the matter continue to find it difficult to pinpoint who's at high risk of suicide, because many patients who talk about killing themselves turn out to be 'false positives' while many suicides take place 'suddenly', without any indication of depression in advance. Yet, insofar as the trained mental health professionals can explore a mix of conscious and unconscious thoughts with deliberation, they're better placed to anticipate and avert the moment when a patient finally decides that life isn't worth living — much better placed than a blood test.
Then there are the cultural factors. In Japan, for example, suicide can even be recognised as noble. In China, unlike most of the world, more women kill themselves than men. How can science take an accurate measurement for such a complex, multifaceted miscellany of human elements? After all, no molecule can capture the human spirit.
An important medical discovery
The discovery of a blood test that can determine the propensity of a person to commit suicide needs to be hailed as a significant medical breakthrough. The test should pave the way for better pre-emptive interventions among patients suffering from acute depression and other mental/emotional disorders. One of the biggest challenges in medical psychiatry is that those experiencing depression often suppress their suicidal thoughts. This makes it extremely difficult to gauge the mental health of a patient through traditional psychiatric practices. The absence of timely intervention has often led to tragic suicide cases that could have been prevented with adequate precaution.
However, relying on biological markers, the new blood test will provide psychiatrists with empirical data to calibrate their patients' treatment. Advances in medical science have increasingly shown that mental/emotional disorders are directly related to biological triggers in the brain. If a blood test is indicative of such triggers, why shun it as an overblown medical procedure? In fact, diagnostic procedures are constantly being fine-tuned to pre-empt life-threatening diseases. Similarly, the new blood test is an additional tool in the fight against depression and suicide.
This is not to say that everyone should be subjected to the test and suspect cases immediately referred to mental asylums. Just as a physician orders diagnostic tests to gauge a patient's condition, the blood test will help psychiatrists understand a patient's mental make-up. In fact, the test will make psychiatry a more precise science, reducing guesswork and increasing the scope of medication. In a country such as India where psychiatric problems are perceived as taboo, such diagnostic tests will also help people see mental/emotional disorders as treatable medical conditions. Taken together, the new blood test will boost psychiatry and improve mental health of the people.
Source: TOI; "New research promises a blood test to predict suicide risk" Aug 22, 2013, 12.00 AM IST