Can You See Suicidal Tendencies in the Brain?

Brain Imaging And Suicidal Tendencies

Suicide is devastating for the loved ones who are left behind. Family and friends often say they didn’t notice any signs of suicidal tendencies, which leaves them wondering what they might have missed. But what if brain imaging could predict who will attempt suicide?

Exciting brain imaging research from 2017 in Nature Human Behavior found that based on brain scans alone, a computer could identify with 94% accuracy rate which study participants had suicidal tendencies.

Earlier research from Amen Clinics, the world’s leader in brain health—including a 2009 brain imaging study in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Neurosciences on 12 people who completed suicide and a 2011 brain imaging study in Translational Psychiatry on 21 people who completed suicide—found abnormalities in brain function in these people. Both of these studies found decreased cerebral blood flow in specific areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex (see below). The researchers concluded, “This work suggests that SPECT might be useful in predicting risk for suicide completion in subjects with depression or treatment-resistant depression.”

“Finding biological biomarkers in the brain that are associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors could ultimately save lives,” says Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of Amen Clinics, which has built the world’s largest brain imaging database related to behavior.

“Finding biological biomarkers in the brain that are associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors could ultimately save lives.” — Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of Amen Clinics Click To Tweet

This would also benefit family and friends, who must deal with a legacy of unimaginable pain when a loved one dies by suicide. “The pain of suicide is unlike any other loss because people see it as a choice, rather than as a consequence of brain health problems,” says Dr. Amen. Understanding that brain dysfunction is at the root of suicide helps loved ones process their grief and alleviates feelings of guilt.

“The pain of suicide is unlike any other loss because people see it as a choice, rather than as a consequence of brain health problems.” — Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of Amen Clinics Click To Tweet


The need to address suicide is becoming more critical as the rates of suicidal ideation are skyrocketing due to the pandemic. Approximately twice as many U.S. adults have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days compared with 2018, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In the report, more than 1 in 10 of the 5,412 respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the previous 30 days. Even more startling is that over 1 in 4 people ages 18-24 had seriously contemplated ending their own life. And over 30% of unpaid caregivers for adults and 22% of people considered essential workers had suicidal thoughts.

This comes on the heels of already-rising suicide rates, especially among young Americans. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, but it is the second leading cause of death among 10-24 year-olds, according to the CDC. From 2007-2017, teens ages 15-19 experienced a 76% increase in suicides, and the suicide rate for 10-14 year-olds nearly tripled.

We need to reverse this trend. It’s time to take advantage of advanced brain imaging technology to help detect people who are at risk.


Brain SPECT imaging, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain, reveals underlying brain abnormalities in people with suicidal tendencies. In addition to the studies mentioned above, Amen Clinics has also done brain scans on over 300 people who attempted suicide and on thousands more who have seriously contemplated dying by suicide.

What do these brain scans show?

People with suicidal thoughts and behaviors tend to have abnormalities in brain activity. What follow-up scans on these patients show is that with the right treatment, there are ways to heal underlying brain health issues and reduce the risk of suicide.

Here are 4 of the most common SPECT findings in Amen Clinics patients with suicidal tendencies along with proven strategies to heal the brain.

Head Trauma

Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries are associated with an increase in suicidal tendencies, according to research in the American Journal of Public Health. Head injuries can negatively impact brain function and have been linked to increases in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, which can contribute to suicidal ideation. Head injuries are far more common than you might imagine, and even minor blows to the head can cause trouble weeks, months, or even years later. At Amen Clinics, brain imaging studies show that 40% of patients have signs of a previous head injury. Surprisingly, many of them don’t remember experiencing a head injury, or they think their past head trauma—whether it was from falling off a bike, falling down a flight of stairs, or from playing tackle football—was insignificant. Brain scans show they are highly significant.

Healing head trauma: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), neurofeedback, hormonal therapy (head injuries often disrupt hormone production), and nutritional supplements (ginkgo, acetyl-l-carnitine, huperzine A, N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, and phosphatidylserine) facilitate the healing process.

Temporal Lobes

Abnormal brain activity in the temporal lobes—especially in the left temporal lobe—is commonly seen on the brain scans of people with suicidal tendencies. According to an Amen Clinics study, 62% of patients who had seriously contemplated suicide or who had made an attempt had abnormalities in the left temporal lobe. The temporal lobes are involved in mood stability, memory, and learning. Problems in the left temporal lobe also include anger and aggression, dark or violent thoughts, sensitivity to slights, word-finding problems, auditory processing problems, reading difficulties, and emotional instability.

Healing temporal lobes: Neurofeedback, nutritional support (higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet), the supplements GABA and theanine, music therapy, singing, and anger management can be helpful.

Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

Low activity in the PFC is a common finding on SPECT in suicidal people. The PFC is involved in impulse control, judgment, and decision-making, but when it is underactive, it is associated with impulsivity, poor judgment, and bad decisions. Having a “sleepy” PFC is one of the hallmarks of ADD/ADHD, and a 2017 review of 26 studies in the World Journal of Psychiatry shows that people with this common condition are at increased risk of suicide. The researchers conclude that early diagnosis and treatment of ADD/ADHD—and the co-occurring psychiatric disorders—can play an important role in the prevention of suicide.

Healing the PFC: Physical exercise, neurofeedback, goal setting, nutritional interventions, support (higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet), meditation, green tea, the supplements rhodiola and ginseng, and asking “Then what?” (thinking about the consequences of your actions) are beneficial strategies to strengthen the PFC.

Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG)

The ACG is the brain’s gear shifter, and it helps you shift your attention from one thought to another. Too much activity here, which is commonly seen on SPECT in suicidal people, makes people more likely to get stuck on negative thoughts. A 2020 study in Translational Psychiatry builds on prior research showing that dysfunction in the anterior cingulate cortex (where the ACG is located) is associated with suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior.

Healing the ACG: Nutritional support (higher smart carbohydrates, lower protein), supplements (saffron and 5-HTP), exercise, learning how to stop looping thoughts, learning to distract yourself when you get stuck on negative thoughts, and writing out options when you feel stuck can help balance an overactive ACG.


After over 30 years of treating people who have considered suicide, Dr. Amen says it’s clear that “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” When the underlying brain dysfunction is treated, however, people’s symptoms of depression, impulsiveness, hopelessness, helplessness, aggression, and negative thinking patterns improve. Putting the brain in a healthy environment with the healing strategies described above provides hope for people who are suffering from suicidal ideation.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” — Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of Amen Clinics Click To Tweet

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Suicidal tendencies can’t wait. During these uncertain times, getting the help you need is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. Hello, Amen Clinic. I am a 50 year old female with a 2014 diagnosis of Lupus, Bipolar One, PSTD and anemia from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2019, I suffered from a psychotic break. I am desperately seeking a way to be a patient at The Amen Clinic. Can I be considered as a research study patient so I can have SPECTing and an evaluation? I believe The Amen Clinic would find me a very inspirational patient. Due to my chronic illnesses and a near death brain infection at 27 years old, I have an extraordinary gift of intuitiveness. I have given 16,000 Intuitive readings away in 16 years as a mission to help encourage and inspire people from all walks of life. Please help me become a patient. I need a miracle.

    Comment by Cari — September 9, 2020 @ 3:19 AM

  2. Hi ,
    I had my brain spelt scanned at your clinic about 4-5 years ago . I need follow up but not sure how to go about it .

    Comment by Pamela Province — September 9, 2020 @ 3:57 AM

  3. I notice that zero consideration was given to the major rise in psychiatric medication, namely the SSRIs. I worked in mental health nursing eons ago (retired now in my early 80s), and NEVER saw anything close to what I’ve been seeing over the past few years. Medication plays a role in changing how the human brain behaves.

    Comment by Patricia Galbraith — September 9, 2020 @ 5:47 AM

  4. So many people need a brain scan but it is not affordable for most people. Only the wealthy can afford it. When will Amen clinics make it more affordable?

    Comment by Amanda — September 9, 2020 @ 5:52 AM

  5. I am interested on a full brain check up for my teen age daughter. She has been suffering from anxiety and depression , lack of concentration and recently had suicidal thoughts. She is medicated but I think she could really benefit from your help.
    So How Can I schedule an online consult (we live in Mexico) ?? And what are the costs of the brain sepect?

    Thank You!!
    😉 Erika

    Comment by Erika Horta — September 9, 2020 @ 6:40 AM

  6. Thank you Patricia Galbraith . Many current commonly prescribed medications list ‘suicidal thoughts’ and/or ‘aggressive behavior’ as potential side effects. Don’t know if medication data is captured on suicide and/or mass murder people. It isn’t publicized. I even see these side effects listed on TV commercials.

    Comment by Bob Burg — September 9, 2020 @ 8:35 AM

  7. Patricia, can you explain your comment about SSRI. Are you for them or ?
    I feel I am just coming out of a deep depression and would love to have a brain scan but truly in these Covid days(hubby n I not working) who can afford it!! Amanda you re right it seems urs only for wealthy.

    Comment by Daisy — September 9, 2020 @ 8:46 AM

  8. I have FIVE suicides in my family, do you think there could be a genes link?

    Comment by Janet Gibson — September 9, 2020 @ 9:00 AM

  9. This is great work but I called to get the price. Of the brain scans. Again all this wonderful medical advances are only available to the people wealthy in time & money. The people who really need this are generally low on disposable income and time as work places generally doesn’t give the working class a lot of self-care time.

    Comment by Jody Furr Doby — September 10, 2020 @ 6:52 AM

  10. As a student in a Masters of Counseling, I know that because Dr. Amen is a breaking new ground, insurance companies don’t usually fund places like his, where there has not been a “vetted” treatment. His findings are very new and controversial in the research world and the insurance comapnies, despite his remarkable findings, just wont support that. Plus, he believes in healing the brain with supplements, something that doesn’t commonly happen with Rx., and again is not supported by the FDA and therefore not most insurance companies. This is why it is out of pocket. But, the $1500… guys, come on. It is expensive, but not impossible. You get a good ammount of quality care. Look at it as an investment. You make a car payment that is 200 a month… save up you $. Stop eating out or going for Starbucks. I am a single mom, working full time… depending on where you live and how you manage your money, it is possible. I have been able to save up enough money in the past 2 years I am able to buy my first home right now. And I found a credit card that has zero interest for 2 years. I don’t normally purchase that kind of ammount, and attemot to pay it off every month. But the consult was worth it for my sons health. With that being said, if you want something bad enough you should invest in your health. You will finction better and be able to recover what your losing now. We as a people (the USA) need to take more responsibility and take control over our money. (Please don’t take this out of context, it is meant as a general statement and I understand those with Covid related work issues and even some brain issues, this can be terribly hard, yet maybe you can find other creative ways, hold a garage sale, set up a go fund me page, tell friends and family what and why you are rasing money, this is for you to become healthy, we do it for others who have health issues, so why not our brain health issues!).

    Comment by Bianca — September 10, 2020 @ 8:49 AM

  11. Bianca – Well said, and thank you for naming a dollar amount, which is hard to find elsewhere. BUT I’m afraid a lot of people will have the same reaction that I had. I don’t have a car payment because we can only afford to buy cheap used cars in private sales with cash, then have my husband get them running. We don’t go to starbucks, and our idea of “eating out” is to split a $5 footlong from subway. We have a credit card set up to pay automatically out of the bank account where our social security checks get deposited, so there is never any interest. We have no mortgage payment because we bought a place cheap in the middle of nowhere. My husband didn’t go to college, and my college was paid by my father’s social security, so we have no college loans to pay off. There are very few things we spend money on that are not necessary. We don’t buy cigarettes, alcohol, soda, lottery tickets, gym membership, cable service, movie rentals… and we have inexpensive tastes in food. You get the picture. In spite of this, we really don’t have much left to save. I think you have no idea how little extra money some people have. HOWEVER, I do agree with you that if something is important enough to you, you can find a way to make it happen. But with so many less expensive options, it’s hard to get motivated to save enough to get the best until you’ve tried all the other possibilities and none of them has worked. By then, it’s hard to trust that the expensive option will be any more successful. I wish there were some way to fund low income people who really need this. If it brings them to better functioning so they can earn a better living, maybe they could “pay it forward” by helping to fund someone else.

    Comment by Roberta — September 11, 2020 @ 7:14 AM

  12. Wow, $1500???? When I called 3 or 4 years ago it was around $3200-$3500. Which was way our of our budget. I’d be amazed if it’s gone down by half or more. Can anyone else verify??

    Comment by Susie — September 11, 2020 @ 1:33 PM

  13. It’s understandable that spect scans have tremendous value. How can a true evaluation of the brain be made if you don’t look at the brain? Doctors look at every other body member to accurately assess that body member…but NOT the brain? What may one actually do if not able to afford a scan?

    Comment by Stephen A Charity — September 21, 2020 @ 9:48 PM

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