Choosing to end it all

Fabrice Jollant

Dr. Fabrice Jollant

The latest study by Dr. Fabrice Jollant, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University, demonstrates how difficulty making effective decisions can predispose an individual to suicide, a discovery that could lead to potential solutions for prevention. The study was recently published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.  

Dr. Jollant and his colleagues at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute focused on the close relatives of individuals who committed suicide, including parents, brothers and sisters who are in good mental health. They underwent neuropsychological tests to investigate their decision-making abilities. “We know that the close relatives of people who commit suicide carry certain traits linked to suicide vulnerability, even if they have never expressed them through a suicidal attempt,” Dr. Jollant explained.

Why poor decisions lead to suicide

According to Dr. Jollant: “People who have a tendency to make risky decisions lean toward solutions that provide short-term benefits despite the high risk, instead of solutions that are safer over the long term. They also have difficulty identifying alternative solutions when faced with a problem.” This can explain the link between decision-making and suicide. “Within the context of a major depression, this difficulty making good decisions can translate into choosing death, which is a solution that ends the suffering immediately, despite its irreparable consequences, without seeing any alternative solutions.”

Add to this the fact that making poor life choices in general creates a variety of stress factors. “We have specifically demonstrated that individuals who make risky decisions experience more problems in their personal relationships, which represent classic triggers for suicidal crises,” Dr. Jollant added.

Solutions

Dr. Jollant went on to say: “Beyond decision-making, we also found that the close relatives of suicide victims who were in good mental health performed very well in other tests, demonstrating the ability to control their thoughts. This may counterbalance their difficulty in making proper decisions, and may have protected them from suicide. We can foresee developing psychotherapies that focus on decision-making and other cognitive functions in order to reduce the vulnerability to suicide.”

Read the full press release on Eurekalert.org

Funding

The research was financed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Fonds de Recherche du Québec en Santé.

Original Research Article:

First-degree relatives of suicide completers may have impaired decision-making but functional cognitive control
A. Hoehne, S. Richard-Devantoy, Y. Ding, G. Turecki, F. Jollant
Journal of Psychiatric Research, July 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.07.004