Study reveals ‘huffing’ household chemicals connected to teen suicide

Contact: Dave Brendsel dbrendse@du.edu 303-871-2775 University of Denver

Girls who ‘huff’ are at higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors

DENVER— With suicide as the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, a new University of Denver (DU) study reveals inhaling or “huffing” vapors of common household goods, such as glue or nail polish, are associated with increased suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Of the study’s participants, 33 percent reported having inhaled volatile solvents, 25 percent had attempted suicide, and 58 percent reported suicidal thoughts.

Stacey Freedenthal and Jeffrey M. Jenson of DU’s Graduate School of Social Work joined researchers from Chapel Hill and the University of Pittsburgh in a study of 723 incarcerated youth. “Inhalant Use and Suicidality among Incarcerated Youth” appeared in the September 2007 issue of the academic journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. The study was the first work to categorize both levels of severity of inhalant use and gender in relation to suicidal ideas and suicide attempts.

The investigators found a significant increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts with higher use of volatile solvents. Researchers did not determine which problem came first, the huffing or the suicidal behavior, but showed that the two are undeniably connected, even when accounting for numerous other factors. Freedenthal warns parents to be aware of the possibility of suicidal thoughts in children who have been caught inhaling household chemicals.

“Inhalant use has many serious, physiological consequences, including death,” says Freedenthal. “Now we are learning ever more strongly that they are also linked to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

The study found the correlation between huffing and suicidality greater in girls than boys. More than 80 percent of girls who abused inhalants revealed a history of suicide attempts, while less than 60 percent of boys showed the same history. The study also indicated that suicidal thoughts were much higher for girls than boys. Suicidal thoughts and attempts were considered two separate constructs, since thoughts do not always lead to attempts, and attempts are not always preceded by much thought.

The study involved 723 participants incarcerated by the Missouri Division of Youth Services, 629 boys and 94 girls at an average age of 15. Participants were asked if they huffed any of the 35 common household substances, such as paint, paint thinner, shoe polish, spot remover, floor polish, kerosene, gasoline, antifreeze, permanent markers, nail polish remover, mothballs, waxes, lighter fluid, and others.

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The University of Denver (www.du.edu), the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountain region, enrolls approximately 11,117 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Denver as a Research University with high research activity.

Total undergraduate enrollment for fall 2007 is 5,311, including 1,140 first-time, first-year students, compared to 1,142 last year. Graduate enrollment is 5,806

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Common parasite may trigger suicide attempts – “seven times more likely to attempt suicide”

Contact:   Jason Cody, Media Communications, Office: (517) 432-0924, Cell: (734) 755-0210, Jason.Cody@cabs.msu.edu; Lena Brundin, College of Human Medicine, Office: (616) 234-0996, lena.brundin@hc.msu.edu

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A parasite thought to be harmless and found in many people may actually be causing subtle changes in the brain, leading to suicide attempts.

New research appearing in the August issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry adds to the growing work linking an infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite to suicide attempts. Michigan State University’s Lena Brundin was one of the lead researchers on the team.

About 10-20 percent of people in the United States have Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, in their bodies, but in most it was thought to lie dormant, said Brundin, an associate professor of experimental psychiatry in MSU’s College of Human Medicine. In fact, it appears the parasite can cause inflammation over time, which produces harmful metabolites that can damage brain cells.

“Previous research has found signs of inflammation in the brains of suicide victims and people battling depression, and there also are previous reports linking Toxoplasma gondii to suicide attempts,” she said. “In our study we found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to attempt suicide.”

The work by Brundin and colleagues is the first to measure scores on a suicide assessment scale from people infected with the parasite, some of whom had attempted suicide.

The results found those infected with T. gondii scored significantly higher on the scale, indicative of a more severe disease and greater risk for future suicide attempts. However, Brundin stresses the majority of those infected with the parasite will not attempt suicide: “Some individuals may for some reason be more susceptible to develop symptoms,” she said.

“Suicide is major health problem,” said Brundin, noting the 36,909 deaths in 2009 in America, or one every 14 minutes. “It is estimated 90 percent of people who attempt suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder. If we could identify those people infected with this parasite, it could help us predict who is at a higher risk.”

T. gondii is a parasite found in cells that reproduces in its primary host, any member of the cat family. It is transmitted to humans primarily through ingesting water and food contaminated with the eggs of the parasite, or, since the parasite can be present in other mammals as well, through consuming undercooked raw meat or food.

Brundin has been looking at the link between depression and inflammation in the brain for a decade, beginning with work she did on Parkinson’s disease. Typically, a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, have been the preferred treatment for depression. SSRIs are believed to increase the level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin but are effective in only about half of depressed patients.

Brundin’s research indicates a reduction in the brain’s serotonin might be a symptom rather than the root cause of depression. Inflammation, possibly from an infection or a parasite, likely causes changes in the brain’s chemistry, leading to depression and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide, she said.

“I think it’s very positive that we are finding biological changes in suicidal patients,” she said. “It means we can develop new treatments to prevent suicides, and patients can feel hope that maybe we can help them.

“It’s a great opportunity to develop new treatments tailored at specific biological mechanisms.”

Brundin and co-senior investigator Teodor Postolache of the University of Maryland led the research team. Funding for the project came from several sources, most notably the Swedish Research Council and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges

http://news.msu.edu/story/common-parasite-may-trigger-suicide-attempts/