Health & Spirit

Can hormone stabilization keep suicidal thoughts at bay for women?

Kate Thayer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Alyse Ruriani, 24, is living in recovery from the depression and suicidal thoughts that plagued her teenage years.

But every month she knows there's a possibility some symptoms could return -- and it's timed to her menstrual cycle.

"Most days, I'm not feeling depressed," Ruriani said. "But I notice that the days I'm down, I'll check, and it always happens to be" just before menstruation.

"It's frustrating because I'm doing so well, and those weeks will come, and you don't feel so hot," she added.

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers are trying to help women who have a history of suicidal thoughts by looking at how the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, can affect their mood. Researchers recently obtained a $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to further study how stabilizing these hormone levels in women at risk for suicide can keep suicidal thoughts at bay.

While health care professionals can identify who is at risk for suicide, it's hard to determine when they're most at risk, said Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC and lead researcher on the new study.


"There's something of a crisis in suicide research over the last few years," she said. "We're good at predicting who is at risk for suicide ... but we are really not able to tell when someone will make a suicide attempt.

"We can't just say, you're a person who is at high risk for suicide, so we'll keep you in the hospital forever," she added. "We have to be able to predict when."

The study will track 90 females with a history of suicidal thoughts, providing estrogen and progesterone patches, or a placebo, during the time in their cycle when those hormones naturally drop. Previous research has already shown women at a higher risk for suicide are more likely to be hospitalized just before, during and just after menstruation, when hormone levels are at their lowest, Eisenlohr-Moul said.

Knowing this, over the past year, Eisenlohr-Moul has studied if stabilizing both estrogen and progesterone levels during that part of women's cycles could decrease suicidal thoughts. She's also involved in other research to see if one hormone is more responsible than the other.


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