A new study of the connection between adolescents and their parents discovers a caring relationship can be key to preventing suicide attempts.
Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-olds in the U.S., after accidental injuries and homicide. In the study, University of British Columbia researchers examined the link between parental bonding, a term describing the quality of a parent-child relationship, and a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Numerous studies suggest that positive parental relationships reduce adolescents’ risk of experiencing depression, loneliness, and suicide.
“However, it has been unclear whether positive adolescent-parent relations protect against suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or both,” said Boaz Saffer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in clinical psychology at University of British Columbia.
“This is a crucial distinction, given that most people who think about suicide do not act on their thoughts.”
The research used two U.S.-based samples: adolescent psychiatric patients and high school students.
Parental bonding was divided into two categories: parental care and parental overprotection. The patients and students completed several questionnaires measuring parental care and overprotection, as well as other known suicide risk factors such as loneliness, emotional distress and self-worth.
Researcher discovered that adolescents with a history of suicide attempts reported lower parental care than non-suicidal adolescents and adolescents with a history of suicidal thoughts.
The other variables assessed — parental overprotection, loneliness, emotional distress, and self-worth — were no different in those who made suicide attempts compared to those who only thought about suicide.
“These findings indicate that caring parent-adolescent relationships reduce the likelihood that suicidal thoughts lead to suicide attempts,” Saffer said.
“Therefore, increasing parental care might represent an important opportunity to reduce suicide risk in adolescents, especially in adolescents already experiencing suicidal thoughts.”