Entries in Suicide (41)


Suicide Prevention: 'Checking In' Can Cut Deaths in Half

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Suicide is never painless.  It not only robs family members of loved ones, but affects all of American society when otherwise productive individuals see no worth to their lives.

Broadly speaking, a federal study shows, 8.3 million Americans -- 3.7 percent of all adults -- have serious thoughts of suicide each year; 2.3 million make a plan and 1.1 million attempt suicide, resulting in an estimated 37,000 suicide deaths each year.

In some ways, that's the good news, according to John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Most who consider suicide do not follow through.

"People with the highest probability of killing themselves have tried before," he said.  "The data shows about 7 percent who try to kill themselves will later die by suicide."

"The important thing is that 93 percent go on to live their lives," he said.  "It's saying that even though this is a high-risk scenario, the overwhelming majority are doing OK or better and find ways to turn it around.  How do they do that?"

Acts as simple as "checking in" with someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression can be an effective deterrent to suicide, according to Draper.

"First and foremost is the sense of meaningful connection in life," he said.  "Someone or somebody who makes them feel they are cared about."

Preliminary research from a SAMHSA-funded team at Columbia University and NY State's Psychiatric Institute shows that follow-up calls with consenting Lifeline callers at suicide risk can help keep them safe.

More than half of the persons at risk who were contacted after suicide threats reported that the calls "kept them from killing themselves," according to the as yet unpublished study.

"Our results highlight the role that crisis centers can play to enhance the continuity of care for individuals at risk of suicide," said author Madelyn S. Gould, deputy director of the Research Training Program in Child Psychiatry at Columbia University.

"Crisis centers are well-positioned to provide this service to their own callers and patients discharged from emergency rooms," she said.

Draper said that post cards, phone calls and personal visits to those who are suffering from depression can help.

"Check in with individuals who are trying to hurt themselves and say, 'How are you doing?  I'm still thinking of you,'" he advised.

He cited research in New Zealand that shows such communications from hospital emergency departments reduced suicide attempts "by 50 percent."

Beyond showing those who are troubled that they are valued, Draper said providing counseling and guidance is critical to recovery -- "teaching them skills to manage their thoughts and feelings."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cat Litter Box Germ Linked to Suicide Risk

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A common parasite that can lurk in the cat litter box may cause undetected brain changes in women that make them more prone to suicide, according to an international study.

Scientists have long known that pregnant women infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite -- spread through cat feces, undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables -- could risk still birth or brain damage if transmitted to an unborn infant.

But a new study of more than 45,000 women in Denmark shows changes in their own brains after being infected by the common parasite.

The study, authored by University of Maryland School of Medicine psychiatrist and suicide neuroimmunology expert Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, was published online today in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study found that women infected with T. gondii were one and a half times more likely to attempt suicide than those who were not infected. As the level of antibodies in the blood rose, so did the suicide risk. The relative risk was even higher for violent suicide attempts.

"We can't say with certainty that T. gondii caused the women to try to kill themselves, but we did find a predictive association between the infection and suicide attempts later in life that warrants additional studies," said Postolache, who is director of the university's Mood and Anxiety Program and is a senior consultant on suicide prevention.

"There is still a lot we don't know," he told ABC News. "We need a larger cohort and need a better understanding of the vulnerabilities that certain people have to the parasite."

Suicide is a global public health problem. An estimated 10 million attempt suicide and 1 million are successful, according to Postlache's work.

More than 60 million men, women, and children in the United States carry the toxoplasma parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very few have symptoms.

Toxoplasmosis is considered one of the "neglected parasitic infections," a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.

About one-third of the world is exposed to T. gondii, and most never experience symptoms and therefore don't know they have been infected. When humans ingest the parasite, the organism spreads from the intestine to the muscles and the brain.

Previous research on rodents shows that the parasite can reside in multiple brain structures, including the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for emotional and behavioral regulation.

Postolache collaborated with Danish, German and Swedish researchers, using the Danish Cause of Death Register, which logs the causes of all deaths, including suicide. The Danish National Hospital Register was also a source of medical histories on those subjects.

They analyzed data from women who gave birth between 1992 and 1995 and whose babies were screened for T. gondii antibodies. It takes three months for antibodies to develop in babies, so when they were present, it meant their mothers had been infected.

Scientists then cross-checked death registries to determine whether the women later killed themselves. They used psychiatric records to rule out women with histories of mental illness.

Postolache said there were limitations to the study and further research is needed, particularly with a larger subject group.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mary Kennedy's Children Likely Dealing with Complicated Grief

Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic(NEW YORK) -- The four children of Robert Kennedy Jr. and Mary Kennedy face a complicated grieving process in the aftermath of her suicide, mental health experts say.

"Initially, the biggest challenge for kids that deal with the suicide of a parent is taking in that news and all the information and circumstances surrounding the death," said Jon Ebert, assistant professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The couple's four children range in age from 10 to 17, and around that age range, children dealing with the suicide of a parent can experience a number of emotions.

Starting at about age 12 or 13, children have a better understanding of suicide.

"Children can differentiate between death and suicide well, and they usually interpret the suicide by saying that the parent was sick or ill," said Dr. T. Byram Karasu, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  "They will usually blame the spouse.  They will deny the loss and hate the spouse."

Karasu added that children who lose a parent at such an age end up growing up very quickly.

"Their growth is interrupted," he said.  "Adolescents usually end up becoming adults very fast."

In some cases, children end up identifying with the deceased parent and assuming that parent's role, which can be a healthy defense mechanism, Karasu said.

But in other cases, children may respond by acting out and rejecting authority.

Younger children usually see death and suicide as interchangeable, Karasu explained.  They may feel depressed and anxious but not know why, and may also feel very vulnerable after the loss.

Children also struggle with the unanswered question of why their parent left them, Ebert said.

"It's important to clearly communicate to kids that their mom or dad was sick," he said.  "Suicide is a symptom of depression, and it's a level of depression that is significant to the point that the person felt so helpless or hopeless that they took their own life."

The children's grief is also compounded by the publicity surrounding Mary Kennedy's death and the notoriety of the Kennedy family.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cancer Diagnosis Ups Risk of Suicide, Cardiovascular Death

Monkey Business/(BOSTON) -- The shock of a cancer diagnosis can have deadly consequences, according to a new study that linked the diagnosis to an increased risk of suicide, heart attack and stroke.

The Swedish study followed more than 6 million adult men and women, 786 of whom were diagnosed with various cancers during the 15-year follow-up. Compared to their cancer-free counterparts, people who were recently diagnosed with cancer had a 12.6-percent higher risk of suicide and a 5.6-percent higher risk of cardiovascular death from heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

"Our findings suggest that a cancer diagnosis constitutes a major stressor, one that immediately affects the risk of critical, fatal outcomes," the researchers wrote in their report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The risk of suicide and cardiovascular death was highest the week following a cancer diagnosis and decreased over time.

"What we're really looking at is the psychological stress associated with receiving the news," said study co-author Dr. Murray Mittleman, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "It can be a very big shock."

More than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society.

"I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that the news of a cancer diagnosis would have such a profound effect," said Holly Prigerson, director of psychosocial oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "We should recognize that it's alarming, it's shocking, and there needs to be a way to protect vulnerable people who are psychologically fragile and less able to withstand the emotional blow of the bad news."

Prigerson said the news can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, both of which increase the risk of suicide. It can also have dangerous effects on heart rate and blood pressure, which boosts the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The risk of death from either suicide or cardiovascular disease was highest for patients with poor prognoses associated with brain tumors and cancers of the esophagus, liver, pancreas and lung.

"Patients might be thinking, 'I'm going to die a grizzly death, so I'm going to kill myself now rather than wait for this to unfold,'" said Prigerson.

The risk was lowest for patients diagnosed with skin cancer.

Prigerson's own research suggests more than half of patients are traumatized by their cancer diagnoses.

"Fifty-seven percent of our sample said they were made terrified or horrified by the news," she said. "It speaks to the psychological devastation wrought by a cancer diagnosis and the need for clinicians to be acutely aware of and sensitive to the impact of this news."

The suicide rate in Sweden is 12.7 per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization, which is slightly higher than the 12 per 100,000 reported in the U.S. But Prigerson said the study's findings can be generalized to American patients.

"These findings are consistent with research on the psychological trauma of a cancer diagnosis here in the U.S.," said Prigerson, adding that Swedish registries allow detailed epidemiological research. "It demonstrates, I think, fairly unequivocally, the impact of psychological stress on physical health."

All the cancer diagnoses reported in the study were confirmed. But Mittleman said the results also have implications for cancer screening programs, which have been criticized for generating false positives that lead to risky tests and procedures as well as anxiety.

"It points to the fact there may be unintended adverse effects of programs we think are strictly beneficial," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Facebook Taking Proactive Stance Against Suicides

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In the wake of the suicide of a 31-year-old Taiwanese woman who told friends on Facebook she was planning to kill herself, Facebook's managers tell ABC News they have plans to work with other leading websites to provide more robust suicide prevention resources to Web users.

"We're working with other Internet companies at formulating a list of best practices, so that there's an understanding and a consensus, along with experts in the suicide prevention community, for online properties dealing with this issue," Frederic Wolens, a spokesman for Facebook, told ABC News.

Wolens said the suicide of Claire Lin, who killed herself on her 31st birthday on March 18, highlighted a problem that social networks have been trying to grapple with for years: how individuals who are suicidal often let their despair reflect on their social networking profiles, by chatting to friends about it or leaving other signs.

"More and more, as Facebook becomes more widespread and pervasive, it's becoming a better and better mirror for what's going on in the real world," Wolens said. "With suicides going on in the real world, the suicide touches some part of Facebook, whether it's the signs leading up to it, or people who wrote things on their Facebook."

The parents of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who killed himself after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on his intimate encounter with another man, are speaking out.

In the case of Lin, the connection to Facebook was particularly gruesome. Lin chatted with nine Facebook friends on the website while she slowly killed herself by asphyxiation, inhaling the fumes from a charcoal barbecue in a closed room and typing messages about her slow death.

The friends begged her to open a window and put the fire out, but did not call police.

In other instances, individuals have written Facebook "status updates" confessing they wanted to kill themselves, or written messages to friends expressing suicidal thoughts. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi brought widespread media and public attention to the issue after he killed himself in 2010. Moments before, he had posted a Facebook message saying, "Jumping off the george washington bridge. Sorry."

Currently, Facebook offers resources to users in the U.S. who ask for them. If a person planning suicide mentions it on Facebook, and friends report it to administrators, they will send messages to the person and his or her friends, offering help.

A private, one-on-one Facebook chat with a suicide prevention counselor would pop open on the person's Facebook page, offering counseling free of charge. The person would also be offered local resources that could be found offline, Wolens said.

For a user who reports suicidal postings by a friend, Facebook offers resources on how to help a friend through that crisis or whom they could recommend the friend contact for help.

"So in the U.S. specifically, we already have a system where when we receive a report of a user that's in distress, that goes into our safety team, which reviews the report to make sure it's an authentic report, and after we've verified it, we reach out to person who has reported it and the distressed user," Wolens said. Facebook then offers the specific chat and local resources, a model the company plans to duplicate abroad.

Facebook also already houses helpline phone numbers and other resources in its Help Center.

What the company won't do is scan users' online activity for warning signs or mentions of suicidal thoughts, Wolens said. The ability to crunch data from billions of users' messages each day -- coupled with the nuance and context of messages that might contain words like "kill myself" -- would make sorting through the data impractical.

For Facebook and other social websites, including Twitter, the opportunity potentially to help suicidal users is great, while the challenge of implementing a practical system has been enormous, Wolens said.

Wolens declined to name the other companies Facebook is working with on the issue, though he said they are leading Internet and tech companies. The group first met in January 2011 to begin talking about the problem and possible solutions, and met again in January 2012, he said.

The group's goals are to standardize the best ways a website or Internet company can deal with suicidal users, primarily by offering resources and one-on-one help to those who ask for it. They have consulted with suicide prevention specialists and organizations whose members are at greater risk for suicide, such as the LGBT community and veterans, Wolens said.

"Eventually we'll be able to have best practices that we can go out and distribute to other Internet companies and work with the online community on adoption," he said.

While the loose coalition works to formalize its plans, Wolens said Facebook will continue to work with suicide prevention groups to implement resources and raise awareness through its own site.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Maryland Teen Threatened Suicide If School Doesn't Stop Cyber Bullying

Comstock/Thinkstock(GAMBRILLS, Md.) -- A Maryland teenager who identified herself only as Sarah was so frustrated with what she said was her high school's nonchalant attitude towards her reports of bullying that she went online and threatened suicide if the school didn't do something about it.

Arundel High School administrators are working this week to quell the firestorm that her note has started.

Her post on reddit asked, "The cyber bullying has gotten to the point where the school will not take any action unless I kill myself. reddit- how do I get my story out and make this stop?"

The message, posted last Wednesday, was from a second-semester senior who described a world in which her bully, someone who she describes as well-known and liked, would say, "Go kill yourself. No one would care if you died. Why aren't you dead yet?"

The girl was given that message repeatedly online and in person since the beginning of the school year, she wrote on reddit.

Sarah said in her note that she had contacted school officials several times, each time to no avail.

"As a teenager dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, I could not laugh this off. I went straight to the office and demanded to see a vice principal. I was sobbing uncontrollably and visibly a danger to myself, but they just sat me down and had me fill out a form. I called my Dad, who cancelled his flight out-of-town to come be with me. He was furious that he was not called in a situation like this. We had a conference with the vice principal, and we were told there would be consequences if it happened again," the note said.

Anne Arundel County School District spokesman Bob Mosier would neither confirm nor deny whether or not Sarah had gone to officials before.

Administrators say that they were first notified of Sarah's note early Wednesday morning, around 1:30 a.m. after the reddit note had gone viral. Mosier says that officials received a slew of emails notifying them of the incident.

"It was a bit of an early-morning mystery," Mosier said. He said that he received emails from all across the country as well as from locations in Canada.

"When you were growing up, your circle of friends is right around the block. Now that includes Canada and Germany and Australia. It [the suicide note] certainly gets a very large audience very quickly," he said.

Mosier, along with other officials, sifted through the thousands of comments to garner clues on who Sarah may be. After hours of sleuthing, they determined that she attended Arundel High School. The next morning, police officers and administrators met with several possible girls until they found the right one.

Sarah retold her account of the incident in an edit to her original reddit post.

"I get off my bus this morning, and I see an unusual amount of cops around the school. I find the group who was going with me into the office, and we sat in guidance, waiting for the counselor to see us all (There were about six of us). Next thing I know, someone asks me if I'm Sarah. They had been looking for this 'Sarah' all morning, and had even called down another girl by the same name. I get taken into one of the counselor's rooms, and a book of these comments is placed in front of me. She tells me that she has gotten a ton of emails, and that the page has been forwarded to several teachers and the principal. I was shocked," she said.

Mosier said that disciplinary action was taken against her bully and that the school is still counseling Sarah.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bullied Teen Hangs Self After Writing She Loves 'All My Haterz'

File photo. Hemera/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, Wash.) -- A 14-year-old girl whose Facebook page says she loves "all my haterz" has committed suicide after enduring two years of bullying by her female classmates, her family claims.

Eden Wormer, an eighth grader at Cascade Middle School in Vancouver, Wash. hung herself Wednesday.

The girl's family told ABC News affiliate KATU that she committed suicide after two years of being bullied by girls in her class. Wormer's older sister, Audri, told the station that Eden changed her appearance several times in an effort to fit in and begged her older sister not to report the bullying because she thought it would only make the problem worse.

Wormer's Facebook page is a bittersweet mix of tween angst where she wrote: "im super funny and out going i love all my friends n family n that includes all my haterz.! :) n im funn to hang around too. :)"

In a Feb. 12 post, she wrote: "omg im such a loner i dont have a valentines n the only thing im celebrating valentines day with is my bummble bee pillow pet. like this iff u hhave no valentines too or iff u wanna be my valentine. :)"

Police in Vancouver say they haven't found evidence that the alleged bullying violated any state laws, according to KATU. Both the school and the Evergreen School District are talking to students and investigating what might have happened and whether any bullying had been documented.

Following her death, Wormer's friends wrote mournful words on her Facebook page. Brook Radtke wrote: "Eden you are an amazing [betuifl] person i will miss you forever love isabel abd brook."

Another friend, Samantha Lynn, wrote, "I wish it didn't take people this long to relize how beautiful you are and how unique you are. You are the sweetest girl in the world. I wish you knew you didn't have to fit in. It's good to stand out."

Wormer's suicide is the latest in a string of youthful suicides that have been attributed to bullying and have prompted a spate of anti-bullying legislation across the country.

Carol Fenstermacher, director of community relations at Evergreen School District, told ABC News that she couldn't comment on this individual case. However, she says she wished someone in the school or community had been able to investigate the bullying claims before such a tragedy occurred.

"It's something that the school community is going to be dealing with for a while," she said.

The school district maintains a website to keep students and parents informed about bullying and harassment, and features a Safe Schools Alert system in which people can anonymously report bullying by phone, text or email. So far this school year, Fenstermacher says there have been 11 reported incidents of bullying at Cascade, which is fairly typical for a middle school, but the type of bullying may vary.

"When there are reports, they're looked at," said Fenstermacher. "We call kids in, and we talk to them. It was disturbing to hear family members saying, 'We didn't call the school.' Please do. If you fear retaliation, do it anonymously, because it's still going to be checked out."

Mike Donlin, program supervisor for the School Safety Center at Washington's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that the state passed comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment legislation in 2010 that defines bullying and requires a set of procedures that all schools must follow.

Although cases of suicide in connection with bullying are rare, "in my mind, the tragedy is that we often forget," he said. "That young person was screaming out for help. We have to learn from this and make sure that we deal with things."

Donlin's School Safety Center also maintains a working group to fight harassment and bullying, and it's scheduled to convene next week. Donlin said he imagines that Eden's case will be discussed at length.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Army Suicide Rates Soar Since Start of Iraq War, Study Finds

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the rate of suicide among U.S. Army soldiers has soared, according to a new study from the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

The study, an analysis of data from the Army Behavioral Health Integrated Data Environment, shows a striking 80 percent increase in suicides among Army personnel between 2004 and 2008.  The rise parallels increasing rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions in soldiers, the study said.

The high number of suicides are "unprecedented in over 30 years of U.S. Army records," according to the authors of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Injury Prevention.  Based on the data and the timing of the increase in suicide rates, the authors calculated that about 40 percent of the Army's suicides in 2008 could be associated with the U.S. military escalation in Iraq.

"This study does not show that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan cause suicide," said Dr. Michelle Chervak, one of the study's authors and a senior epidemiologist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command.  "This study does suggest that an Army engaged in prolonged combat operations is a population under stress, and that mental health conditions and suicide can be expected to increase under these circumstances."

From 1977 to 2003, suicide rates in the Army closely matched the rates of suicide in the civilian population, and were even on a downward trend.  But after 2004, the rates began to climb fast, outpacing the rates in civilians by 2008.

In 2007 and 2008 alone, 255 active duty soldiers committed suicide.  The vast majority of the suicides since 2004 were by men; and 69 percent had seen active combat duty.  Nearly half were between ages 18 and 24.  And 54 percent of those who committed suicide were from among the lower ranks of enlisted personnel.

The study found that suicide rates were higher among soldiers who had been diagnosed with a mental illness in the year before their death.

Soldiers who had been diagnosed with major depression were more than 11 times as likely to commit suicide, and suicide was 10 times more likely among those with anxiety.  More than 25 percent of the soldiers who took their lives had been diagnosed with adjustment disorder, a term for the immediate emotional fallout from proximity to stressful events.

The association between mental health woes and the risk of suicide is well known to mental health professionals, but Chervak said the purpose of the study was to validate mental health diagnoses as a major risk factor for the increasing number of suicides in the Army.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rural States See Spike in Suicides Following Medicaid Cuts

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Suicide is on the rise in rural America -- nowhere so much as in Western Mountain states like Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico.  Mental health professionals attribute it in part to cutbacks in Medicaid funding, the recession and the culture of the rural West.

In Idaho, somebody kills him or herself every 35 hours, according to a 2009 report to Idaho's governor by the state's Council on Suicide Prevention. Their report calls suicide "a major public health issue" having a "devastating effect" on Idaho's families, churches, businesses and even schools: 65 students aged 10 and 18 killed themselves in a recent five-year period.

Last week, a county sheriff in Bonneville told the Idaho Falls Post Register that his department was getting more suicide calls than in 2010 -- a year in which 290 Idahoans took their own lives.

Historically, the suicide rate in rural states has been higher than in urban ones.  According to the most recent national data available, Alaska has the highest rate, at 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people.  Next comes Wyoming (23.3), followed by New Mexico (21.1), Montana (21.0) and Nevada (20.2).  Idaho ranks sixth, at 16.5.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Idahoans aged 15-34. Only accidents rank higher.

Kathie Garrett, co-chairman of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, says the problem has gotten only worse since the recession.

"The poor economy and unemployment -- those put a lot of stress on people's lives," she explains.

To save money, people skip doctor visits and cut back on taking prescribed medications.  Cuts in Medicaid have also reduced the services available to the mentally ill.

"I personally know people who lost Medicaid who've attempted suicide," says Garrett.

Kim Kane, executive director of Idaho's Suicide Prevention Action Network in Idaho says other factors explain the high rate of suicide in Western Mountain states. One is the greater prevalence of guns: In 2010, 63 percent of Idaho suicides involved a firearm, compared with the national average of 50 percent.

She and Garrett also say the West's pride in rugged individualism can prevent people from seeking help.  Their feeling, says Kane, is that they ought to be able to pull themselves up by their mental bootstraps.  Idaho is the only state not to have a suicide-prevention hotline.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tinnitus: Phantom Noises Drive Sufferers to Distraction, Suicide

Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Thinkstock(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- An estimated 50 million Americans have some degree of tinnitus in one or both ears; 16 million of them have symptoms serious enough for them to see a doctor or hearing specialist.

As many as two million become so debilitated by the unrelenting ringing, hissing, chirping, clicking, whooshing or screeching, that they cannot carry out normal daily activities, their lives "essentially ruined," said Jennifer Born, an American Tinnitus Association spokeswoman in Portland, Ore.

Of 9,000 patients who have come to the tinnitus clinic at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, clinic director Billy Martin said he was aware of eight who committed suicide.  Most of the patients show up with insomnia, anxiety and depression, along with their tinnitus.

"The combination is extremely difficult to deal with," he said.  "The load this places on people is beyond what any human was designed to endure."

Because tinnitus is most often triggered by noise, it represents an enormous occupational hazard for musical performers, at least 60 percent of whom report it occasionally, according to a 2007 ATA survey.  Performers with tinnitus include rockers Neil Young, Eric Clapton and the Who's Pete Townshend, along with heavy metal's Ozzy Osbourne.

GIs constitute another tinnitus-plagued group, their cases triggered not just by the aural assault of exploding roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, but also by traumatic brain injuries suffered in those attacks, said Born, who traces her own tinnitus to "an Oasis concert when I was 15."

Although people typically associate tinnitus with deafness, it's actually a neurological problem that originates not in the ear, but in the brain, involving miscommunication between damaged sensory cells -- called hair cells, which line the cochlea, and the brain.  People with severe tinnitus typically hear noise that doesn't exist except to them, much like an amputee perceives phantom pain from a missing limb.

Because we live in an increasingly amplified world of turned-up car speakers, amplified concerts and iPod earbuds piping music directly into our ear canals, hearing experts warn about a flood of new cases in coming years, especially among the young and the wired.

One experimental approach that could hold promise for tinnitus sufferers has worked so far in animals and is being tested in a small human trial in Belgium.  It combines low-dose electrical brain stimulation through the vagus nerve with tones fed through ear phones.  Together, these "cancel out the tinnitus signal," said Born.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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