Infectious Disease

Suicidal behavior patterns in parents passed down to children, study finds

March 31, 2022

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Children exposed to their parents’ patterns of suicidal behavior and methods are at a higher risk for repeating the same behaviors, according to a Danish study published in Lancet Psychiatry.

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

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Ranning and colleagues sought to discover if the presence and nature of suicidal behaviors in parents were associated with the same in their children. The study examined national registries to include more than 4 million individuals from Denmark born after 1953, who were at least aged 10 years and living in the country at any point between Jan. 1, 1980 and Dec. 31, 2016. Adults listed with their child at the time of first registration were considered parents, while later records permitted identification of possible stepparents.

Information on incidence and exposure to suicide and suicide attempts by parents was gained through hospital records and causes of death through national registers. Researchers calculated incidence rate ratios for suicide and suicide attempts in children by analyzing suicidal behavior of the parent, age of exposure for children, and sex.

Results revealed that 150,222 (3.4%) offspring were exposed to at least one, if not both parents’ suicide attempts 31,564 (0.7%) had at least one parent who died by suicide and 12,834 (0.3%) experienced both parental suicide attempt or parental suicide death.

Those exposed to parental suicide attempt saw higher rates of suicide attempt (2.72 95% CI 2.33–3.17) than those exposed to parental suicide (1.77 1.50–2.09) when compared with unexposed individuals.

Researchers also found that higher rates of suicide were observed in children exposed to parental suicide (IRR 3.18 95% CI 2.84–3.58) than for those exposed to parental suicide attempt (2.37 2.19–2.57). Additionally, young persons exposed to parental suicide had higher odds of violent suicidal methods than those exposed only to parental suicide attempts (2.095% CI 1.7–2.3).

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

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