Genetic research sheds new light on veteran suicide risk

For the first time, researchers are beginning to understand the genetic factors of suicide attempts.

in New study This year, VA researchers compared the genes of veterans who attempted suicide with those of veterans without any report of a suicide attempt. A study like this has never been done before. What has been discovered may one day help doctors screen veterans at risk of suicide and prevent attempts in the first place.

This is what they found.

Ratio and suicide risk may share genetic links

When looking at the genes of 14,089 veterans who reported a suicide attempt, several genetic “marks,” or dots in their genomes, stood out to the researchers who did not appear in the nearly 400,000 veterans with no reports of a suicide attempt in their medical records.

genetic researcher VA

Jane Beckham

Many of these suspect genes were present in veterans across different racial and ethnic backgrounds. But the researchers also discovered genetic markers that appear to carry a higher risk of suicide attempts in some groups than others. A few of these ancestry-specific genes have been found in African Americans, European Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans.

“Genetic studies of suicide risk in the past have not had enough participants to consider race and ethnicity,” said Jan Beckham, one of the researchers from the study who practices and teaches psychiatry at Duke University. “What we’ve learned will help us better identify those most at risk of attempting suicide and come up with interventions specific to their genetics, background, and recent life events.”

Insomnia and low levels of oxytocin may be risk factors

As the study researchers looked beyond the veterans’ genes and into their medical history, as well as information gathered from lifestyle surveys, two other findings stood out.

Among the study veterans who reported a suicide attempt, many also described severe sleep problems such as insomnia. The more severe the sleep disorder, the more veterans reported a suicide attempt.

The VA researchers also found that those who attempted suicide had difficulty absorbing an important hormone called oxytocin. This natural hormone helps us feel connected and confident. For this reason, it is often called the “love hormone.” Previous research among the civilian population has found that lower oxytocin is associated with more suicidal intent and attempts. VA research supports this finding in veterans, too.

What does this mean for you?

With this increasing amount of knowledge, doctors may one day be able to offer genetic tests to determine the risk of attempted suicide. They may also be able to better screen you for suicide risk based on previously unknown risk factors, such as insomnia or difficult life events, which appear to have genetic links to suicide.

Ultimately, the goal is to make sure veterans receive the right care at the right time to prevent suicide attempts in the first place. Research like this will help make that a reality.

How can you help?

Veterans in these studies were enrolled in Veteran Million Program (MVP), VA’s largest research effort and one of the world’s largest in genetics and health. When veterans join an MVP, they agree to make their health and genetic information available to researchers accredited to study health and disease in veterans.

Thanks to more than 900,000 MVP veterans, we understand the genetics of suicide risk better than ever before. This is just the beginning of what our research offers.

Already, data from MVP veterans backed up the largest genetic studies to date Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)And the major depressionAnd the heart diseaseAnd the Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease in the United States. Other areas we research include tinnitus, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Gulf War disease.

Make a difference for veterans. Join the Million Veteran Program today.

To learn more and to subscribe, visit Or call 866-441-6075. You do not need to receive a VA healthcare to register.

Are you a veteran in crisis or worried about one? you are not alone! The Veterans Crisis Line is here for you. You do not have to enroll in VA or health care benefits to call. Dial 988, then press 1.

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