THURSDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- New research out of Sweden
suggests that a mother's suicide may influence the risk for later
suicide attempts in her children, even more so than the suicide of
The research doesn't prove that suicides by parents, either the
mother or the father, causes offspring to face a higher risk of
trying to kill themselves. And the researchers noted that the
number of offspring in the study who ended up hospitalized after a
suicide attempt was small.
Still, "pediatricians, surviving parents and educators should be
aware of the possible risk and provide appropriate referral sources
for these children as needed," said study lead author S. Janet
Kuramoto, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
In 2007, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the
United States, accounting for almost 34,600 deaths, according to
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is
more prevalent among men, with about four times as many males as
females killing themselves.
Previous studies have hinted that the children of parents who
committed suicide were at higher risk of feeling suicidal
themselves, but it wasn't clear if the problems were connected to
the parent's suicide or to the fact that the parent died, whatever
the cause, Kuramoto said. The authors of the new study sought to
gain more insight.
They examined Swedish databases to discover what happened to
5,600 children whose mothers committed suicide and 17,847 whose
fathers committed suicide during the years 1973-2003. The
researchers compared that data to rates of children whose parents
died in accidents.
The study findings are published online and in the November
print issue of the journal
After adjusting their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off
by signs of mental illness in the parents, the researchers found
that the children of mothers who committed suicide were nearly
twice as likely to be hospitalized in connection to a suicide
attempt than those whose mothers died in accidents.
"This sounds like a pretty significant increase, but the majority of the offspring -- over 95 percent -- were not hospitalized for suicide attempts during the study
period," Kuramoto stressed. Overall, "2 percent of the offspring
who lost their mother in a fatal accident had a subsequent
suicide-attempt hospitalization, and 4 percent of the offspring who
lost a mother to suicide," she said.
One anomaly from the study was that children of fathers who had
committed suicide do not appear to be at a significant higher risk
of attempted suicide. It's not clear why the suicides of mothers,
which were less common, may have had more of an effect than the
suicides of fathers.
Thomas Joiner, a professor of psychology at Florida State
University and author of books about suicide, offered one theory:
Suicide is rare in women, and "when it happens, it signals severe
illness, even more so than it does in men." The illness could be a
sign of genetic problems that the women may pass on to their kids,
Do the Swedish study results suggest anything about the children
of parents who kill themselves in the United States? It's hard to
tell, Kuramoto said. The suicide rate is slightly higher in Sweden,
especially among females, Kuramoto said, but universal health care
also means that it's easier for Swedes to access mental health
While the study findings don't prove that the suicides of
parents directly cause their kids to become more suicidal, they do
suggest that "family members are connected, for better or worse,
and have profound impact on one another," said suicide researcher
M. David Rudd.
"Even the individual struggling with a mental illness, feeling alone, hopeless and insignificant, is anything but insignificant. The ripple effect of one life -- and death -- can endure through many lives and across many generations," said Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah.
Find out more about suicide and suicide prevention at the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.