Suicide Understood: Test Detects if You are Suicidal With 97% Accuracy

suicide art

Suicide can be prevented.

Having a friend or family member commit suicide can be one of the most heart wrenching experiences of our lives. While suicide is a serious problem, it is usually impossible to know whether a person is suicidal or not. All that is about to change.

The astonishing accuracy of a new test designed by a German and Swedish team is poised to revolutionize suicide prevention around the globe. The test involves the analyzation of blood pressure, blood circulation, and sweat gland activity in depressed patients. The study was published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research and so far the method used has achieved a success rate of 97% in recognizing whether a person is likely to commit suicide or not. Lars-Håkan Thorell is an associate professor in experimental psychiatry at Linköping University, and one of the researchers behind the study. Even he was surprised by the results.

The results are so strong that I’m astonished.

suicide jump

Some of us are closer to the edge than others.

783 depressed in-patients in Germany were tested for hyporeactivity, which is a reduction in reactions to various stimuli. The study found that 97 percent of depressed patients who later committed suicide were hyporeactive. It should be noted however that hyporeactivity can be present in people that are not depressed. Thorell explains that,

Everyone who has it is not suicidal – but almost all suicidal, depressed patients have it.

Related Article: Psychiatrists Cannot Distinguish the Sane From Insane

Bipolar patients showed the greatest amount of hyporeactivity compared to all other types of mental illness. Additionally, Thorell points out that those with recurrent depression are at a higher risk of becoming hyporeactive, likely because,

certain nerve cells in the hippocampus are damaged by depressions and negative stress.

To know if a person might commit suicide and is in fact exhibiting hyporeactivity the team played a pattern of tones while examining the body’s reaction to the sounds. A sensor is placed on the finger which analyzes blood pressure, blood circulation, and sweat gland activity. As the tones continue to be played the body of a person with hyporeactivity quickly stops reacting. That is all it takes to know if a person is considering suicide or not. Thorell sums up the difference between normal reactivity and hyporeactivity, stating that,

A depressed person has a biological inability to care about the surroundings, while a healthy person continues to react.

suicide us

With awareness and proper measures, these numbers can all be reduced to 0.

Thorell plans to conduct this study in 15 other countries in a continued effort to understand and prevent suicide. This could not have come at a better time since global suicide rates have increased by 60% in the last 45 years. According to the World Health Organization nearly 1 million people die every year from suicide. This equates to a death every 40 seconds. Keep in mind that these statistics don’t take into account unsuccessful attempts, which according to the WHO may account for 10, 20, or even 30 times more than the stated numbers.

Related Article: Mystery of Death Solved: DMT is the Key

Suicide is currently the leading cause of injury mortality in the United States with more people killing themselves than dying from car accidents. Despite this, the suicide rate in the United States doesn’t even come close to that of other countries. Suicide rates are soaring all around the globe. Interestingly, Greenland has the highest rate, with nearly 25% of the population claiming to have attempted suicide. By the way, Greenland only has a population of 56,000, so the potential loss of 25% of its population would be devastating. After Greenland the countries with the highest suicide rates are Lithuania and South Korea.

suicide rate world

By just being there, you are helping.

As long as suicidal intention is recognized in a person it can usually be prevented with professional help. Although getting help can make a difference, most people are not receiving the aid they need. WHO points out the major obstacle of suicide prevention, explaining that,

Worldwide, the prevention of suicide has not been adequately addressed due to basically a lack of awareness of suicide as a major problem and the taboo in many societies to discuss openly about it. In fact, only a few countries have included prevention of suicide among their priorities.

Related Article: Suicide the Leading Cause of Injury Mortality in the United States

If you think someone is suicidal, don’t keep it a secret. I am a strong proponent for the right to die, but a mentally ill person is a sick person – they should be allowed to make the choice with a clear head, not a clouded mind or hopeless outlook. Suicide Awareness Voice of Education (SAVE) explains that the first step to take if you think a person is suicidal is to start a dialogue.

Suicidal thoughts are common with some mental illnesses and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seeking professional help. Questions okay to ask:

  • “Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?”

  • “Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?”

  • “Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?”

  • “Have you thought about what method you would use?”

This allows you to gauge how serious a person is about suicide. Your next step should either be calling 911 (if it is very serious), or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This is a service available to suicidal people as well as friends and family.

Related Article: Death is a Privilege, Not a Right

suicide rate world

The other recommended tips include recognizing and accepting a person’s problems. Don’t try to convince them that their problems are irrelevant, as this usually intensifies the desire to commit suicide. Simply reassure them that the state they’re in is temporary, that life can always get better, and that help is available at all hours of the day. Finally, if a person is in immediate danger, offer to help them. Follow through with your offer and aid them in finding a mental health professional. You can even make the call with them. As SAVE poignantly reminds us,

If you’re in a position to help, don’t assume that your persistence is unwanted or intrusive. Risking your feelings to help save a life is a risk worth taking.

Remember, always take a conversation about suicide seriously. It could be the last conversation a person has.

suicide help reach out

Everyone needs help at some point in life.


International Statistics


List of Countries

Leading Cause of Injury Mortality in the United States

Suicidal Greenland

Prevention Lifeline

MIT Scientists Incept Mice With False Memories

Director Christopher Nolan’s (of Batman and Inception) fame has a distinct fascination for memory, a theme he frequently explores in his films. In 2000’s Memento, protagonist Leonard Shelby suffers from a real (but extremely rare) condition that disallows him from making new memories. He remembers his childhood and his past but exists solely in a short-term memory present tense that fades after a minute or two, only to be erased and replaced again and again. In the film his wife is brutally raped and murdered. Unable to experience the tempering effects of time and psychologically incapable of moving on, he lives with a constant and fevered desire to catch her killer.

He frequently burns possessions of her in an attempt to gain some sense of closure, but these memories he tries to create never stick. He dispiritedly utters one of my favorite lines of the film:

“I can’t remember to forget you.”

Recently scientists at MIT may have found a way to replace memories or to erase them altogether.

Publishing in Science, a team of researchers claim to have created false memories in mice. The team was able to condition mice to behave fearfully in an environment that was different than the one in which they had actually been exposed to electric shocks.  The study, performed by Steve Ramirez, Xu Liu, et. al., could fundamentally alter our understanding of the physical, neuronal aspects of memory function. The team also speculates that this research could be used to literally turn memories on or off, a revolutionary idea that many people likely find liberating and terrifying in equal measure.

To train the mice, the researchers first had to locate a specific memory in their brains. In this Ted Talk, Liu and Ramirez detail how they were able to identify the specific cells responsible for a memory. When a mouse was put into a new environment, its brain would light up with neuronal activity. Liu explains that when these cells are activated, they leave behind a “footprint” that makes it possible to track their activity and put a sort of neuronal bookmark on them. Using a technique called optogenetics, the team was able to install an artificial “switch” that lets them literally turn these brain cells on or off by shooting them with laser pulses.

To summarize the complicated and detailed experiment: Individual mice were put into a new environment, a blue box. The neurons responsible for creating the memory of the blue box were traced and made to activate in response to pulses of light. The mouse was then put into a different new environment, a red box. While in the red box, the researchers administered mild electric shocks to the mouse while activating the cells responsible for remembering the blue box. The mouse was, in effect, being reminded of the blue box while being shocked in the red box. Then, the mouse was put back into the blue box, where it fearfully responded as if that were the environment it was conditioned to fear, despite the fact that the mouse had no historical reason to be afraid of the blue box.


The scientists very literally Incepted a mouse with a false memory that made it afraid of an environment it had no reason to fear.

In addition to being able to turn a memory on, Liu and Ramirez maintain that they can also turn it off, and even believe it will be possible to customize and edit memories in the future. These alterations can be viewed as a controlled version of the way our minds naturally distort our recollections, which is one reason why eyewitness testimony is so fundamentally flawed—our brains are famously prone to misremembering. This groundbreaking technology could change one of the most important aspects of being human: the obviously profound relationship we all have with our past.

The possibility of erasing bad breakups or the sources of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to creating new versions of our old selves, can be both an invigorating horizon of opportunity as well as the introduction to an Orwellian nightmare, depending on both the individual involved and what memories are being tinkered with.

One of my fundamental beliefs is that every human being fully owns themselves and may do anything to their body they wish, with the important caveat that they alone are responsible for their actions. The idea of a third-party deleting or installing memories is of the utmost abhorrence. However, for better or for worse, I believe that individuals should be allowed to selectively modify their own past as they see fit, despite all the inherent troubles of getting the rest of the world to go along with the story you’ve created. (Imagine having to tell everyone to never bring up an ex before you get your memory of him/her erased…and how that totally wouldn’t work.)

I like to focus on this research as being a way for mankind to better understand memory and the neuronal processes in the brain. However, the idea of erasing or manipulating memories is interesting and does create a fundamental paradox. If I change my own recollections, my perception of the past that created my personality and worldview will have been altered by a person that I no longer fully recognize or accept as truly being “me.” The person who altered their memories would in a very real psychological sense no longer be the person that had the memories changed in the first place.

So who would you truly be? The Before or the After?

On a humorous note that I simply couldn’t pass up, writing about this story has brought up one of my favorite moments from Seinfeld. In the show, Jerry Seinfeld is dating a cop and is nervous about taking a lie detector test. Jerry asks George Costanza, the consummate and ubiquitous teller-of-fibs, for advice. George, absolutely deadpan, gives his counsel:

“It’s not a lie….if you believe it.”






Controlling Dreams and Implanting Memories


MIT researchers have successfully manipulated the dreams of rats using audio cues, leading scientists to believe we have entered the beginning of an age of “dream engineering.”

What do rats dream about anyway?  Running through mazes of course.  The researchers repeated the same audio cues while they were dreaming that rats heard at a certain point in the maze while they were awake. What they found was neural activity identical to the particular point in the waking life maze that they were trying to recreate in the dream.  Using a simple audio cue, they were able to control which part of the maze the rats dreamed of.

Even stranger, researchers are beginning to implant memories and produce artificial memory recall in mice.  They have located the neurons specifically responsible for memories, and manipulating these neurons, they can erase specific memories, or even create new ones!

While this could be a breakthrough for several types of psychotherapy, these studies are the stuff of paranoid nightmares.

Don’t be surprised if you wake up tomorrow and realize you’re actually a super agent from Mars, or a brain in a jar being tampered with in some distant future. Okay, fine, be surprised, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.