Psychological disorders in parents linked to suicidal behaviors in children

Research was recently published in PLoS ONE linking psychological disorders in parents with suicidal behaviors in offspring of various ages.

The study, which examined 2,942 participants in Brazil, sought to distinguish between different types of suicidal behaviors and determine how they correlate with various disorders exhibited by the parents. The study was also aimed at targeting specific periods in the child’s life to understand when the impact risk was the greatest.

For the purposes of the study, suicidal behavior was placed into one of three categories: ideation (thoughts), plans, or attempts. Psychological disorders were categorized according to the DSM-IV, a diagnostic manual for psychology professionals.

The researchers found that parental psychological disorders were common with participants who have experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts. The most consistent predictors of suicidal ideation in offspring were antisocial personality and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the parents. Also, panic disorder and GAD in parents seemed to predict suicidal attempts in children.

Analysis of the data revealed that more parental diagnoses predicted the more frequent suicide attempts by the offspring. These results were most significant during adolescence, when children of parents with depression exhibited the most suicidal behaviors.

“Beyond the influence of inherited psychopathological traits and adverse family environments, teenagers are faced with physical modifications of the body and the brain. This is a period of emotional turmoil and heightened impulsivity,” wrote Geilson Lima Santana and Bruno Coelho, principal investigators.

According to the research team, the study highlights the need for more research into the link between parental psychopathy and offspring suicidal behaviors. The hope is that a greater understanding can help prevent suicidal thoughts and attempts in the future.

“This clinically relevant intergenerational transmission of suicide risk was independent of offspring mental disorders, and this underscores the need for a family approach to psychopathology,” the report reads.