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Parents’ Mental Health Issues Increase Kids’ Risk of Suicide Attempts

Parents’ Mental Health Issues Increase Kids’ Risk of Suicide Attempts

New research discovers the risk for suicide attempts and violent offending by children appears to be associated with their parents’ psychiatric disorders.

Experts explain that suicide and violent behaviors can cluster within families. This may occur because of genetics, epigenetics, and social and environmental influences.

As reported in JAMA Psychiatry, Roger T. Webb, Ph.D., of the University of Manchester, England, and coauthors examined associations between a full spectrum of parental psychiatric diseases with attempted suicide and violent offending by children.

Researchers searched for childhood patterns associated with a host of parental mental disorders included dementia in Alzheimer disease, substance use disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety, personality disorders, and suicide attempts.

The study group included more than 1.7 million people born in Denmark from 1967 through 1997 and followed up from their 15th birthday. About 2.6 percent of the study population first attempted suicide and 3.2 percent were convicted of a first violent offense during the study period.

Findings include:

  • Risks for suicide attempts and violent offending by children were elevated across virtually the entire spectrum of parental psychiatric disease.
  • The greatest increases in risk for both suicide attempt and violent offending by children were associated with parental diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder, cannabis misuse, and prior suicide attempt.
  • Parental mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, were associated with some of the lowest increases in risk, especially in violent offending by children.
  • A history of mental illness or suicide attempt in both parents was associated with twice the risk compared with having only one parent affected.
  • Associations between parental psychiatric disease and violent offending by children were stronger for female than male children; suicide attempts by children were comparable regardless of sex.

The study does have limitations as researchers admit that while they could account for parental socioeconomic status, they could not adjust for other potential factors such as parental criminal histories or experiences of abuse by those in the study group.

Nevertheless, researchers believe the similarities in relative risk patterns indicate that self-directed and interpersonal violence may have a common cause.

The study notes children of parents with a history of psychiatric disease also are at increased of risk of being exposed to maladaptive parenting practice, family violence, abuse, neglect, and financial hardship.

Investigators warn that the impact of those harmful environmental factors can be cumulative.

“Psychiatrists and other professionals treating adults with mental disorders and suicidal behavior should consider also evaluating the mental health and psychosocial needs of their patients’ children.

Early interventions could benefit not only the parents but also their offspring,” the study concludes.

Source: JAMA Networks/EurekAlert

Parents’ Mental Health Issues Increase Kids’ Risk of Suicide Attempts

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Parents’ Mental Health Issues Increase Kids’ Risk of Suicide Attempts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.