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Going to Vegas for the holidays?

If you're thinking about doing away with yourself (and we hope you're NOT!), it turns out there's only one place to go. We all assume that anyone who commits suicide has a good reason to do so, yet many people who are in the same dire straits opt to stay alive and face their problems. The difference may be a new discovery that the brains of people who commit suicide are chemically different to those who die from other causes?they may be gamblers.

Every day 85 Americans die by suicide and hundreds of thousands more make attempts every year. The vast majority of recent studies on suicide have focused on identifying psychiatric risk factors. However, a new study explores time and place as factors in suicide by closely analyzing the patterns of suicide in a single geographic area?Las Vegas?over a 30 year period.

Researcher Matt Wray set out to determine whether or not there was hard data to support the anecdotal evidence that the risk of suicide in Las Vegas is higher than elsewhere in the country by comparing statistical patterns of suicide in Las Vegas to the rest of the nation.

The results showed that residents of Las Vegas face a suicide risk that is significantly higher than the risk faced by residents elsewhere and that people who die while visiting Las Vegas are twice as likely to die by suicide than are people who die visiting someplace else. Visitors to Las Vegas face an even higher suicide risk than residents of Las Vegas If you live in Las Vegas, but travel away from home, your risk for suicide decreases.

Wray says, "So, one conclusion we might draw from this fact is that something about the place is toxic or 'suicidogenic,' and that there is something about reduced exposure to Las Vegas that is beneficial."

According to Wray, there a couple of scenarios that may explain the reasons for this: "One would be 'gambler's despair'?someone visits Las Vegas, bets his house away and decides to end it all. Another would be that those predisposed to suicide disproportionately choose Las Vegas to reside in or visit. And, finally, there may be a 'contagion' effect where people are emulating the suicides of others, with Las Vegas acting as a suicide magnet, much like the Golden Gate bridge. Some people may be going there intent on self-destruction."

What about Las Vegas as a place may be contributing to these higher rates of suicide? Problem gambling is just one piece of the puzzle. Wray says, "Las Vegas is also one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the US, a pattern of growth that may amplify social isolation, fragmentation and low social cohesion, all of which have long been identified as correlates of suicide."

Or maybe it's despair over the fact that even Vegas isn't Vegas any more. Wray says, "Maybe it's actually a sign that the rest of the country is becoming more like Las Vegas?with increased social isolation, sprawling growth, and casino-style gambling now in every state and many metropolitan regions."

Or maybe people with suicidal genes are the people who like to gamble (makes sense). When researchers analyzed the brains of 20 dead people, they found that the ones who had committed suicide had a higher rate of a DNA change that affects behavior. This brain change can be caused by your environment (like being in Las Vegas).

BBC News quotes psychiatrist John Krystal as saying, "This is exciting new evidence that genetic and environmental factors may interact to produce specific and long-lasting modifications in brain circuits. Further, these modifications may shape the course of one's life in extremely important ways, including increasing the risk for major depressive disorder and perhaps suicide."

Our advice? None of us (at least most of us) can't know what the future will bring, so if you're depressed, hang around someone who's not!

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

Lots of folks don't realize it, but contact has begun. Will this be good or bad? We'll just have to wait and see!

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