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SKA2

Last week I referred to Newsweek as “a magazine that nobody reads any more”, but now here I am, linking to it again because of an article I was referred to on suicide. Of course I can’t think of suicide (not for very long, anyway) without also thinking of Walker Percy, so that obviously makes it of interest to readers of this blog (just how many readers would be interesting to know). Here is a good long sample:

Dr Zachary Kaminsky, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is at the forefront of efforts to identify what has colloquially been termed a “suicide gene”. “Stress is like driving,” Kaminsky says. “You can drive really fast, and that can be useful, but you have to be able to slow down.” His team compared brains of those who died by suicide and those who didn’t. They had an inkling that for those who died by suicide, a gene called SKA2 might be, in effect, acting as a faulty brake pad, failing to control stress.

By looking at just this single gene, Kaminsky’s team was able to predict with 80-90% accuracy whether an individual in their research group had thoughts of suicide or had made an attempt. More research is needed, but signs are positive that in the future a simple blood test may provide at least some indication of suicide risk.

I had heard of the possibility of isolating a suicide gene, but I didn’t know it had been identified as SKA2 (not sure what that refers to, but it’s at least a name,which is helpful), and didn’t know, for example, that men are four times more likely than women to kill themselves, or that Lithuania has the highest rate in Europe. I know next to nothing about Lithuania, except that Czesław Miłosz is from Wilno, and of course this doesn’t tell us whether it’s something in the water, or in the genes, or if there’s anything particularly depressing about Lithuania.

Does the internet have much of an effect on these numbers? Here’s some anecdotal evidence from the story

In most of his YouTube videos, Brett Robertshaw has headphones on, head bobbing rhythmically, fingers flashing up and down the fretboard of his bass guitar. His talent had gained him a following; some of these videos attracted 40,000 views. One is different. In it he sits in front of the camera – a red-haired, matter-of-fact boy. He’s shy and serious, quietly answering questions from his online following.

On his Ask.fm page, while Brett’s written responses to questions about his life from other users are generally funny, sharp and acerbic, a few give pause.

Question: “What was the last lie you told?”

Brett: “I’m OK.”

Question: “Your (sic) in your own movie are you the good guy or the bad guy? and why?”

Brett: “I’m the extra, because fuck that shit.”

Brett wrote over 7,500 tweets in less than three years. Most are digital snippets quite typical of a young male life, but there were also infrequent, intense bursts of sadness and resignation. Struggles to sleep. Anger and isolation. Alcohol as a coping mechanism. On 14 May 2014, unbeknown to family and friends, Brett began to draft a long and eloquent message for his personal website. It began: “The truth is, if this post is live, then chances are, I’m probably not here any more.”

Very sad.

I was surprised to read in the article that not all suicides are classified as acts of the mentally ill. I’ve always taken it for granted that killing one’s self has to be some form of mental illness. Apparently not. Read all about it here.

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