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The Sole Survivor
August 30, 2006 1:00 AM   Subscribe

The Sole SurvivorAllen Boyd [Real Player interview] is the sixth and last surviving member of his family: the other five committed suicide. Is suicide genetic?
posted by cenoxo (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Is suicide genetic?

Via Trends in Suicidology: Personality as an Endophenotype for Molecular Genetic Investigations:

Genetic factors may also be very important [13,14]. Marusic and Farmer [15] argue that the variation in the suicide rate across European countries (7–43 per 100,000 inhabitants per year) cannot be explained by sociocultural factors alone and is probably due to shared genetic vulnerability. A case in point is the high suicide rate in Hungary and Finland, two populations with a common genetic origin but with divergent cultural and political trajectories [15].

At the family level, the risk of suicide is higher in individuals with a family history of suicide [16,17], and the suicide rate of adolescents is highly correlated with the suicide rate among their relatives [18]. Even studies that have controlled for levels of psychopathology have shown that relatives of suicide completers and attempters are at an increased risk for suicidal behaviour [19,20]. Twin studies indicate that this familial clustering of suicidal behaviour has a partly genetic basis with heritability estimates of 17%–55% for suicidal behaviour [21,22] and 20% for suicide [23] reported. The only adoption study we are aware of suggested that as far as suicidal behaviour is concerned, adoptees resemble their biological parents more than the adoptive family [24].

posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:17 AM on August 30, 2006


Fascinating angle, and pretty cool to see the rag we in Asheville we call a newspaper make an FPP (though this columnist is top notch). Great post.
posted by moonbird at 4:15 AM on August 30, 2006


Excellent post, cenoxo.

As the (scholarly) article cited by Blazecock Pileon notes, psychopathology is the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

It seems very clear that mood disorders, such as major depression and bipolar disorder, are strongly genetically linked.

The idea of a genetic predisposition to impulsive/aggressive behavior is very interesting.

Combine a genetic predisposition to psychotic depression with a predisposition to impulsive behavior and you've got trouble.
posted by enrevanche at 5:40 AM on August 30, 2006


Wee it's certainly familial. Genetics aside, we learn expectations and coping strategies from our parents and siblings, and our extended family. Just as there's some evidence that suicide begets suicide in communities, there's a lot of evidence that it begets repetition in the same family.
posted by OmieWise at 5:56 AM on August 30, 2006


This story somehow reminds me of Survivor (no, not the tv series)
posted by darkripper at 6:19 AM on August 30, 2006


"**Well** it's certainly familial."
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2006


I've often wondered about this myself. And this guy and this guy also had fathers who killed themselves.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2006


Suicide is not genetic. Suicide is an act. The reason(s) for suicide can be genetic - depression, for example.
posted by enamon at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2006


Ludwig Wittgenstein had three brothers kill themselves, and from Russell's memoirs, exhibited suicidal behavior himself. Just thought I'd share.
posted by Tullius at 6:45 AM on August 30, 2006


There should've been a comma after the 'and'.
posted by Tullius at 6:46 AM on August 30, 2006


This reminds me quite a bit of the rioplatanese poet Horacio Quiroga.

His father was accidentally killed (shooting).
His stepfather killed himself.
He accidentally shot and killed a friend of his.
His daughter killed herself.
His son killed himself.
His wife killed herself.

In the end, Quiroga killed himself too.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:58 AM on August 30, 2006


I don't know that I believe there's a suicide gene. But, proximity has to count for something.

A character in some cheesy novel I read a while back made an interesting observation, one that might hold as true as any of the other notions around this:

In "normal" depressed families, suicide is unthinkable, and one wouldn't dare because of the hurt to those one would leave behind.

Whereas, one person in a family kills themself, they basically are giving explicit permission to anyone else who ever considered it. And, those who come after witness the family members pick up and go on.

It's not scientific, but it certainly seems to make sense.
posted by pineapple at 7:07 AM on August 30, 2006


Wasn't it Malcolm Gladwell in the Tipping Point who suggested that a suicide being reported broke down down taboos etc and hence contributed to increased suicide rates in the months afterwards? The 'socialisation' process could be the same here, whereby if one person in a family commits suicide it makes it easier to contemplate for other family members. I suppose the evidence from the adoption cases where the adoptees' suicide patterns follow biological parents rather than adoptive parents would militate against this interpretation.

(I have no idea if Gladwell's claims are reliable or have subsequently been debunked).
posted by patricio at 7:15 AM on August 30, 2006


On preview: pineapple makes the same point (better).
posted by patricio at 7:16 AM on August 30, 2006


As far as a "what makes sense to me" vantage point, I agree with a lot of the points people have been making. But I kinda wonder if we're just suspicious of the seeming "blame your genes" trend, just as we questioned in the past the seeming "blame your family" trend.
posted by pokermonk at 7:48 AM on August 30, 2006



Suicide can be contagious-- there are a lot of studies finding that after heavily covered suicides (stars and the like), the suicide rate rises.

There are also cultural influences-- some cultures, like the Japanese, make a place for it and it is actually shameful to the family for that person *not* to do it in certain circumstances, whereas others make doing so a source of family shame.

But the genetic stuff isn't just people copying other family members-- the risk is increased amongst those raised away from their depressed family members as well.

So, just like everything else: a mix of personal, cultural and genetic factors.
posted by Maias at 7:56 AM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


I love the new genetic determinism. I have genes for the following: loving ice cream with cookie batter in it, petting big fluffy dogs named Conrad, and watching porn with such titles as Dude where's my Dildo and Tea Bagger Vance. I can't help it. Its in my DNA.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:19 AM on August 30, 2006


damn dirty ape: well, if you happen to have an identical twin from whom you were separated at birth, who was raised in completely different familial and cultural circumstances, and he just happens to "[love] ice cream with cookie batter in it, petting big fluffy dogs named Conrad, and watching porn with such titles as Dude where's my Dildo and Tea Bagger Vance", too, then yeah, I'd say there's a good case to be made that those things are genetically determined. otherwise, i'm reserving my judgment (well, some of it, anyway).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 AM on August 30, 2006


Most excellent FPP, cenexo. Fascinating stuff. Thanks.
posted by bim at 8:34 AM on August 30, 2006


saul, whooosh!
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2006


(urg, was that the sound of your joke whizzing over my head, or of my joke getting nothing but net? or something completely different? damn linguistic ambiguity!)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:55 AM on August 30, 2006


If a tendency to commit suicide is genetic, those genes must have a fabulous upside, such as the resistance to malaria conferred by sickle-cell, or the environmental circumstances which make those genes result in a tendency to commit suicide must be very recent, or the genes must arise by spontaneous mutation at an improbably high rate, because otherwise, adverse selection will reduce their occurrence to very low levels in a small number of generations.
posted by jamjam at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2006


maybe the outpouring of community sympathy given to the families of suicide victims confers a reproductive benefit on the family as a whole, improving the mating opportunities for the closely-genetically related survivors, or something along those lines.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2006


adverse selection will reduce their occurrence to very low levels in a small number of generations

Unless the suicide phenotype is expressed, on average, past reproductive age, at which point it wouldn't really place much pressure on suicide alleles.

A good follow-up question is to ask the average age of suicides, to see if it falls within or outside the mean age of procreation within the larger population.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:19 PM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]


good point BP.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:27 PM on August 30, 2006


Unless the suicide phenotype is expressed, on average, past reproductive age, at which point it wouldn't really place much pressure on suicide alleles.

Excellent point. However, given the historic scarcity of food, and the social nature of human beings, I think it's hard to argue that suicide past the age of reproduction ought not to be counted as a fabulous upside, considering how much it could promote the survival of close relatives who are not past the age of reproduction.
posted by jamjam at 12:42 PM on August 30, 2006


Wow. Imagine the pressure Allen is under. Man, it'd make me want to kill myself!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 PM on August 30, 2006


Wow. Imagine the pressure Allen is under. Man, it'd make me want to kill myself!

Nice. Real nice. Hmm... Wait a minute. Methinks Five Fresh Fish=666! OMG! I've found the antichrist right here on MetaFilter! And based on his profile, he's Canadian, which just kind of figures, don't it?

Let's just hope Allen doesn't stumble across this thread, or you just earned some seriously bad karma.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:06 PM on August 30, 2006


Sweet jesus, he's onto me.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 AM on August 31, 2006


A case in point is the high suicide rate in Hungary and Finland, two populations with a common genetic origin but with divergent cultural and political trajectories [15].

Wow. I mean, I'd always understood that the high suicide rate in Finland is due primarily to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But that's something I hadn't known.
posted by dhartung at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2006


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