Patterns of suicidal behavior in parents passed on to children, study finds

March 31, 2022

1 minute read


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According to a Danish study published in Lancet Psychiatry.

“Suicidal behavior has been shown to concentrate in families with a higher risk in offspring of parents who died by suicide than in unexposed individuals,” Anne Ranning, PhDfrom the Copenhagen Center for Mental Health Research, Gentofte Hospital, and colleagues wrote.


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Ranning and his colleagues sought to find out whether the presence and nature of suicidal behaviors in parents were associated with the same in their children. The study looked at national records to include more than 4 million people from Denmark who were born after 1953, aged 10 and over, and lived in the country at any time between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 2016. Adults listed with their child at the time of the first registration were considered parents, while subsequent registrations identified possible step-parents.

Information on incidence and exposure to suicide and parental suicide attempts was obtained from hospital records and causes of death from national registries. The researchers calculated the incidence rates of suicide and suicide attempts in children by analyzing the suicidal behavior of the parent, the age of exposure of the children and the sex.

The results revealed that 150,222 (3.4%) offspring were exposed to at least one parent or both of their parents’ suicide attempts 31,564 (0.7%) had at least one parent who committed suicide and 12,834 (0.3%) suffered both parental suicide attempt or parental death by suicide.

Those exposed to parental suicide attempt had higher suicide attempt rates (2.72 95% CI 2.33–3.17) than those exposed to parental suicide (1.77 1.50–2 .09) compared to unexposed people.

The researchers also found that higher suicide rates were observed in children exposed to parental suicide (IRR 3.18 95% CI 2.84–3.58) than in those exposed to parental suicide attempt (2 .37 2.19–2.57). In addition, youth exposed to parental suicide were more likely to resort to violent suicidal methods than those exposed only to parental suicide attempts (2.095% CI 1.7–2.3).

“Bearing in mind the excess risk in those exposed at a young age, early preventive interventions are warranted, as are clinical considerations of familial exposure in patient risk assessment,” Ranning and colleagues wrote. .