How do you know when someone who talks about suicide will actually go through with it? Even experts have difficulty deciding which depressed patients need protection.Now American scientists believe that they have found a way to assess risk: a blood test that checks glands controlling the stress hormone cortisol.
Overactive glands may be a corollary to the mental turmoil that leads people to take the final step. So says psychiatrist William Coryell, who studied patients given the dexamethasone suppresion test while hospitalised for major depression.
Thirty two of the 70 patients were churning out excess cortisol. Tracking the group over 12 years, Coryell found that seven of the 30 with abnormal results had killed themselves, compared with only one of the patients who had normal results. Those with high cortisol levels were 14 times more likely to commit suicide.
If the findings hold up in larger studies, Coryell believes the test could prove to be a powerful tool for the mental health community.