Why does one depressed person struggle through life's darkest moments, while another decides to end it all? New studies by Dr. John Mann of Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh offer biochemical answers. By examining the brains of suicide victims, Mann has discovered that the levels of a key brain chemical, serotonin, are up to 50% lower in suicide victims than in the brains of people who died in accidents. Similarly, by measuring the metabolic by-products of serotonin in spinal fluid, Mann also has found that serotonin levels are lower than normal in many people who had made serious suicide attempts.
The abnormalities turn up in a region of the brain associated with emotion and the control of impulses, suggesting that a serotonin deficiency might intensify depression or boost thoughts of desperate remedies. If that's so, says Mann, scientists may be able to spot and correct this deficiency, thus preventing many of the 32,000 suicides in the U. S. this year.