John Hopkins Children’s Center led a study: Children of Suicide More Likely to Commit Suicide that will appear in the Journal of American academy Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in May of 2010. While this study made what most people will believe to be an obvious finding, the numbers are staggering. It seems that children of parents who committed suicide are actually 3 times more likely to commit suicide, while adult children of parents who commit suicide have no increase in risk for suicide.
There are several things that should be considered here. The fact that children model the behavior of their parents is no state secret, but is that the main motivating factor in the suicide risk for children? For some, it could be. For others it may be the simple fact that the child lost a parent or the direction the child’s life took after the parent died. The loss of a parent is a horrible burden to bear. Not only is a child being asked to deal with emotions that are often bigger than they are, but they have one less person in their support system to turn to in times of crisis, such as the death of a loved one.
What makes the adult children seemingly immune to this increased suicide risk factor? There are several things to be considered. For one, these adults are hopefully better equipped than young children are to handle such overwhelming emotions. Another factor to be considered is that the adult has developed their own lives separate from their parents, hence their own support system as adults.
While this study did prove that children of parents who committed suicide had an increased risk for suicidal behavior, the increased risk may have nothing or everything to do with the actual act of suicide by the parents. Religious beliefs and genetic factors are just some of the options that come to mind. Religious factors may prompt the child to want to “join” the parent while genetic factors may include an inherited mental illness that may prompt suicide, such as depression.
Parents should use this study to motivate themselves to avoid suicide since their is a definite increase in the risk factor for their children. Depression and other mental illnesses or traumatic events and stressors may be a catalyst in a parent considering suicide, but the fact that the adult is a parent may be a motivating factor in avoiding the suicidal route. At the very least, it is something for a parent to consider. Perhaps the next study should be one to measure the difference between suicidal thoughts of parents armed with this information and parents who are unaware of this information.