Suicide: What Is The Biological Cause? – Pt. 1

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

If suicide goes against everything our bodies are wired for, then why do so many people opt to take this way out? In the first episode of “Suicide Awareness Week,” Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen discuss the surprising biological causes that can contribute to feelings of depression and hopelessness, as well as how to fight and prevent these causes.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey everybody, we are so excited that you have joined us. We are going to talk about suicide over the next four podcasts. We call this Suicide Week, not of course so you hurt yourself, but-

Tana Amen: How about Suicide Awareness Week?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Suicide awareness-

Tana Amen: [inaudible 00:01:12].

Dr. Daniel Amen: But suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, but it's the one that perhaps is so emotionally impactful on everybody in your life. But first, we have some reviews of the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I woke up this morning actually to this one. It's from a woman in Singapore, so the podcast is going around the world. [Jennifer Ring 00:01:47], "I've been listening to your podcast ever since I stumbled on the Brain Warrior's Way. I go for an early morning six to nine kilometer walk and you're my favorite accompaniment." I love that. "Your latest one with Colonel Jill Chambers and Michael Peterson literally left me in tears. My husband suffered from severe depression and other associated mental health issues for decades, in addition to being severely overweight and just being physically sick." Don't you find that they often go together?

Tana Amen: They do.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "The psychiatric treatments he has had over the years left him unlike the person I knew when we first met. It was like he had this massive foul smelling and dense dark brain fog that followed him perpetually. Whenever he got an episode, I'd just say that Dr. Doom's in the house. Yes, it's been incredibly stressful dealing with this." People often don't talk about the stress on the family of living with someone who's anxious, angry, depressed, addicted. "Thankfully, a few years ago he started to turn his life around through exercise, eating clean, and getting the right supplements. Until I heard Colonel Jill and her husband share their experiences, I realized that my husband has been dealing with some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder that has never been treated." Then they go on to say, "They wish they could come and get a SPECT scan, but until then, they're just so grateful for this information."

Tana Amen: What I like is that this is a good point. She says, "Until they can ... " Because they're coming from Singapore, just the flight is expensive. But she said, "Until they can actually come to the U.S. and do what they would like to do, which is to get a SPECT scan, they're just doing everything that we talk about the whole program." That's what we want you to do. Do the program, right? If you can't come in-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because that's also what we're going to tell you to do if you come to the Amen Clinics-

Tana Amen: Right, do the program.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We're going to tell you every day is good for my brain or bad for it and you want to know. Do you have any experience with suicide in your life?

Tana Amen: Oh dear Lord, not so much in my immediate family, but my step mother in her side of the family ... I have two half sisters and my step mother, she had, poor thing, her sister, her brother, and five cousins, so she's had a lot. I saw that impact her and my dad when I was young growing up and the impact it had on the entire family. It was really hard. I remember being around, it was really sad, because her sister really liked me when I was little. For some reason, she just took a liking to me.

She was severely depressed, bipolar, and isolated herself in her room. Then she'd have moments of thinking she was someone else. It was interesting. I'm not exactly sure what all that was about, but I was pretty young. It could be really scary, but what I mostly remember was that she was always really kind to me, even when she was in a really bad state she was always kind to me. It was so sad and just so horrifying to see this person not be able to come out of their room. She wouldn't bathe. She wouldn't do anything. Then one day, I got the message that she had taken a gun and ended her life.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, so it's completely against what we were made to do, or what we have evolved to do, which is protect ourselves. When people become hopeless, or helpless, or feel worthless, they're more likely to do something that hurts themselves. A study just came out today that having a head injury doubles the risk of suicide.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I've known that for a long time, that traumatic brain injury is a major cause of depression, and so few people actually know about it.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If we look at what could cause someone to feel so hopeless, helpless, worthless, having a diagnosed mental health condition, especially depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder where you go between two polls. You can have really severe low-lows and high-highs. In those low periods there's a high incidence of suicide. People who have ADHD have a higher incidence of suicide because of the impulsivity. There's actually a study from Washington State in Seattle. It actually said 55% of the population in Seattle at some point in their life have had suicidal ideas.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Having the ideas is not that abnormal

Tana Amen: You got to wonder why Seattle? Is it the weather?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, it's seasonal-

Tana Amen: Yeah, effective-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Effective disorder, which means they go months without seeing much of the sun.

Tana Amen: More vitamin D and-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Remember, when we actually shot the cookbook in Seattle-

Tana Amen: I was only there for a week and I was getting wonky.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In January. But it almost felt depressive, right?

Tana Amen: Yeah, and I take vitamin D and I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is just ... This isn't just rain, this is just gray."

Dr. Daniel Amen: It was not that much fun. There's actually some ... There is evidence that the weather can play a role. We've talked about mental health issues, including ADD. Weather can play a role. But most people think the highest incidents of suicide is December, but in fact, that's the lowest incidence of December.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You just feel like you want to die.

Tana Amen: Highest for heart attack.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Highest for heart attacks.

Tana Amen: Yeah, Christmas day.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because ... But the highest month is April. My first thought, "Well, of course, that's when you have to pay your taxes." You'd rather go to-

Tana Amen: Really?

Dr. Daniel Amen: The other side than pay your taxes.

Tana Amen: Seriously?

Dr. Daniel Amen: But what's interesting is people have often had winter depressions where they've thought about suicide, but they didn't have the energy to do it.

Tana Amen: They were just too down to even do it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But as the sun came out for longer in April and they began to get the energy, they would do something that they have been thinking about. In the military, it's actually different. The highest months of suicide are July and January, which are the months of military moves. When you move and you lose your connection to your tribe, you become more vulnerable. Often on the show when we talk about why things happen, we always talk about four circles. There's a biological circle, a psychological circle, a social circle, and a spiritual circle. Let's just dive into it a little bit and then over the rest of the week we'll talk about more. The biological causes of suicide, so major mental health problems. You described your step mother's family loaded for-

Tana Amen: Genetically it's terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Depression and suicide. There's genetic causes. If you have family's members that have done it, you're more vulnerable. That means you just have to take care of yourself more. We talked about mental health issues. We've talked about traumatic brain injury. Now, I remember when you told me you had thyroid cancer.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Even though you were not actively suicidal, you were sort of hoping-

Tana Amen: Which is interesting, that ties into the spiritual and social. The reason I don't think I was suicidal is because my religious beliefs really kept me from going to that really, that other place, and also because of my mom. It was my mom. I knew my mom wouldn't survive it, so those connections are the only thing that really kept me from going there. I thought about dying. I actually thought how convenient it would be if a truck just hit me. But I couldn't do it myself.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When your thyroid is low, you're more likely to have suicidal ideas. Then looking at some other biological causes, if you have high lead, high mercury, you're more likely to be depressed. If you've been exposed to mold and you have brain fog, you're more likely to be depressed and entertain suicidal ideas. If you have something like Lyme disease ... It goes into a concept Marty Seligman first pioneered. I love this concept this concept from him. It's called learned helplessness. Is you try to feel better and it doesn't work, and you try and it doesn't work, and you try and it doesn't work, and you try and it doesn't work, and pretty soon you say, "To hell with it," and you stop trying. That's when you learn to be hopeless.

Tana Amen: You have to wonder why some people that happens and they give up and they have this learned helplessness, and others just decide they're going to fight and it's almost like I'm going to show you type of-

Dr. Daniel Amen: No matter what happens, it's about a-

Tana Amen: No matter what.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Third of people.

Tana Amen: Isn't that interesting?

Dr. Daniel Amen: And about a third of animals that no matter what happens to them, they have this-

Tana Amen: Drive.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Level of resilience.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Biological and some medications can actually cause-

Tana Amen: Oh dear, so I have to tell you about that one. About probably 12, probably 13 years ago. This was probably shortly before I met you. I went through something medical where I couldn't sleep and then they prescribed me some Ambien for about a week so I could sleep at night. I didn't think anything of it. I thought, "Oh good, I get to sleep at night," right? I took the Ambien the first night and I woke up the next day feeling really wonky, like wonky just in the brain, just not right. I did not feel right. I felt down. I felt tired, foggy, just didn't ... I felt off my game completely, but I thought, "Okay. Well, whatever. It's probably just whatever I was going through." I didn't really think much of it. Took the Ambien again the second night, woke up the next day crying uncontrollably. If you'd have asked me why, no idea. No idea. I wasn't depressed, that I know of, but suddenly I had zero control over my emotions. It was so crazy. I mean, I think there are medications that can do that to people, even when they're not technically supposed to.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Almost all medications have psychiatric side effects, and almost I think pretty much all of the psychiatric medications have black box warnings saying, "This medication in vulnerable people may increase the risk of suicide."

Tana Amen: Now, are sleeping pills one of those that are-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes.

Tana Amen: Particularly-

Dr. Daniel Amen: You bet.

Tana Amen: I have never ever taken them again. I take-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because if you have a sleepy brain, and then they give you something to calm it down, it may in fact disinhibit your brain-

Tana Amen: Oh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Making you more likely-

Tana Amen: Yeah, makes sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To have trouble. As we continue Suicide Week, we're going to come back and we're going to talk about some of the psychological causes of suicide and what you can do about it. Stay with us.

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