Children who lose their parents are more likely to commit suicide later on in their lives, according to a new study.
While it has long been known that children whose parents committed suicide are at an increased risk of also committing suicide, the new study from Danish researchers has found that losing parents due to any cause increases this risk in children.
Roughly three to four percent of children in Western countries experience the death of one of their parents. Losing a parent has been linked to psychological trauma and mental health issues.
The new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed data of over 7 million people from Denmark, Sweden, and Finland over a 40-year period. They identified 189,094 people who experienced in their childhood the death of a parent. They compared this group to a control group consisting of people who did not experience parental death during their childhoods.
Researchers found that children who lost a parent were twice as likely to commit suicide later in life compared to other children. For the children who lost a parent, 0.14% committed suicide compared to 0.07% of other children.
The overall suicide risk for children who lost a parent was twice as high in boys, with four out of every 1,000 committing suicide compared to two out of every 1,000 for girls.
Suicide is the tenth highest cause of death in the U.S. and is often correlated with alcohol or substance abuse issues.
While suicide risk was increased no matter what the cause of death, certain groups of children were more affected than others. These groups included boys whose mother’s committed suicide and children before the age of six who lost a parent.
The findings are similar to those found in a study from the University of Pittsburgh, where researchers found that the sudden death of a parent increased a child’s risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
The findings indicate that parental death may have far-reaching health implications on children. The study found that suicide risk was increased for up to a 25-year period following a parent’s death.
The researchers believe that the increased rate of suicide is likely due to the trauma caused by the parent’s death, although genetics could also play a part. Parents and children could share genes which make them more likely to develop mental health problems that lead to suicide.
The study indicates that following the death of a parent, even children who seem to be coping well may be at an increased risk of ending their life later on. The researchers suggest that early therapy should be used with children who lose a parent, saying that “early mitigation of distress” may reduce the risk of suicide.
While the study is concerning, it did not control for other factors, such as genetics and family life. This could mean that there are other factors that also contribute to the increased suicide risk.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Higher suicide risk for those whose parents die when they are young,” Medical News Today web site, November 11, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302465.php.
Luscombe, B., “Kids Who Lose a Parent More Likely to Commit Suicide,” Time web site, November 11, 2015; http://time.com/4106315/kids-who-lose-a-parent-more-likely-to-commit-suicide/.
Preidt, R., “Losing a Parent in Childhood May Raise Suicide Risk Decades Later,” HealthDay web site, November 11, 2015; http://consumer.healthday.com/general-health-information-16/suicide-health-news-646/losing-a-parent-in-childhood-may-raise-suicide-risk-decades-later-705121.html.