Genetics vs. Environment: Adolescent Suicide Provoked by Childhood Abuse Essay

Submitted By avera803
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Pages: 11

Genetics vs. Environment: Adolescent Suicide Provoked by Childhood Abuse Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, as well as the third leading cause of death in adolescents (Labonte and Turecki, 2012). Although suicidal behaviors are often complicated and lack a single-determining cause, childhood abuse and maltreatment serve as one of the most encompassing risks for suicide; in fact, one-third of adults who were physically abused during their childhood have seriously considered suicide (Kennedy, 2012). I made it my goal to attempt to understand what combination of environmental and genetic factors would influence a person to commit, or attempt, suicide. While child abuse has the potential to culture a variety of psychological afflictions and high-risk behaviors (“Effects of Child Abuse,” 2012), there is likely some sort of genetic trigger that would motivate suicide attempt. There is limited evidence that supports familial transmission of a specific gene; however, evidence of a genetic basis of suicide can be traced to neurotransmitters such as serotonin and brain-derived neurotrophic factor genes (BDNF’s), which have been under a spotlight of extensive research and could prove to be long-lasting molecular mechanisms associated with an increased risk for suicide (Elsevier, 2012). I found that suicide is an outcome of a combination of environmental stressors, as well as an individual’s proneness to acting on suicidal impulses based on genetic patterns.
Even though many who commit suicide suffer from depression, 80% of all people suffering from depression never attempt suicide (“Biology of Suicide,” 2012). This suggests that there are other risk factors that influence suicide. Suicide is often traced back to childhood abuse and neglect, which have effects on an individual that could potentially last a lifetime. Childhood abuse can have physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences. Physical consequences, such as damage to a child’s growing brain, often lead to mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or stress conditions (“Effects of Child Abuse,” 2012). In turn, these psychological problems manifest risky behaviors such as alcohol abuse, obesity, and drug use (“Effects of Child Abuse,” 2012).
I was surprised to discover that over 80% of young adults who had been abused fell into a category for at least one psychiatric disorder by the age of 21 (“Effects of Child Abuse,” 2012). I began to wonder, why do these conditions seem to constantly worsen; what drives this exponential, mental decline? It turns out that multiple considerations need to be taken into account. The severity of a mental defect can be traced back to the frequency and severity of the abuse itself. It is more likely that a person exposed to child abuse was exposed multiple times, further damaging the brain and decreasing a child’s resilience to emotional distress and chemical alterations; the greater the severity of the abuse, the higher the risk for suicidal attempts (Amitai and Apter, 2012). Because there is a direct correlation between a decline in mental health and an increase in frequency and severity of abuse, potential suicidal impulses could be more easily eliminated if correct methods of prevention and treatment were provided early enough. I will go into further detail about treatment and prevention in later portions of this paper. In order to understand how to provide help, it is important to understand what is chemically happening in suicidal individuals. Harvard researcher, Dr. Martin Tiecher, studies the results of abuse and neglect on the brain. In a particular experiment, he studied nearly 200 people ages 18 to 25 that had experienced physical abuse in their youth, using brain scans to determine any potential abnormalities (Kennedy, 2012). Regardless of their mental health status, formerly abused children showed volume reductions of about 6% on average in two parts of the hippocampus, compared