The trope of the “cat lady,” essentially a woman who has failed in all attempts to acquire human companions (which has resulted in ever-increasing numbers of feline friends to fill the void of her lonely singledom) is one associated with loneliness and depression, but a new study has actually linked the idea of a “crazy cat lady” to increased risked of suicide.
The crazy cat lady suicide study comes out of Denmark, and included more than 45,000 women. Researchers discovered that women who are infected with Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) — found not only in cat poop, but undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables — are possibly at a higher risk of suicide. Even more worryingly, the higher the levels of T. gondii in a participant’s system, the more risk of a suicide by violent means (such as leaping from a high building, cutting or stabbing oneself with sharp implements or shooting) increased as well.
T. gondii was described in the cat lady suicide study as a “major public health problem,” and indeed, the parasite has, in the past, been linked with mental illness, schizophrenia and major behavioral changes. Among those generally infected, the risk of suicide was about one and a half times higher, but again, this risk increased among those who had more severe infections.
Senior author of the cat lady suicide study, Teodor T. Postolache, MD, is a professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Postolache explains that while the link is not definitive, it is compelling:
“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. We plan to continue our research into this possible connection.”
“Is the suicide attempt a direct effect of the parasite on the function of the brain or an exaggerated immune response induced by the parasite affecting the brain? We do not know. In fact, we have not excluded reverse causality as there might be risk factors for suicidal behavior that also make people more susceptible to infection with T. gondii. If we can identify a causal relationship, we may be able to predict those at increased risk for attempting suicide and find ways to intervene and offer treatment.”
One third of the world is currently infected with the parasite studied in the cat lady suicide research.