Suicide occurs far too often in today’s world, and sadly many, if not most, suicides can be prevented. Research has discovered several risk factors for suicide. These include, but are not limited to: failing an important test or failing in school, being afraid of authority, or peers, problems with the law or in school, depression, having a parent who suffers from depression or another psychiatric illness, a major life stressor such as moving to a new location, experiencing a traumatic event, a divorce in the family, or the loss of a romantic relationship, impulsiveness, a past history of suicide attempts, and having a serious illness or injury. A new study by Swedish and American researchers indicates that children who have lost a parent to suicide or in an accident are also at increased risk for committing suicide.
American researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in conjunction with Swedish researchers conducted perhaps the largest study to date on the subject of how a parent’s sudden death effects children. The entire Swedish population was examined over the period of 30 years to determine how the sudden death of a parent would effect children. To do this, the researchers compared the violent crimes, suicides, and psychiatric hospitalizations of 500,000 Swedish children, teens, and young adults who had lost a parent to death by illness, suicide, or accident to almost four million children, teens, and young adults who had living parents. Young adults were aged 25 or under in this investigation.
The findings of the study indicate that children and teens who lost a parent by suicide were three times more likely to commit suicide themselves than those who did not. However, this finding did not hold true for young adults, individuals who were 18 years old or older; they did not have an increased risk of committing suicide even when they had lost a parent in this manner. Furthermore, individuals who had lost a parent to suicide were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for depression than those who still had living parents.
Additionally, children under 13 years of age who lost a parent to death in an accident were twice as likely to commit suicide than children whose parents were still living. This finding was not found in teens and young adults. There were no significant differences in suicide rates among teens and young adults who had lost a parent in an accident versus those who had living parents. Likewise, there were no differences in the rates of suicide between children under 13 years of age who had lost parents to illness and those who had living parents. However, individuals who lost a parent in an accident or to illness did have a 30 and 40 percent increased risk of hospitalization than those who had living parents, respectively.
It is important to note that the study did not include suspected suicides. The researchers also did not include children in the study who had been treated for a developmental or psychiatric illness before the parent had passed away or who were being treated on an outpatient basis. The researchers assert that this may mean that the death of a parent by accident, illness, or suicide may be even greater than what this study indicates.
Given that children and teens are at increased risk of committing suicide when they lost a parent in this manner and that children under 13 years of age are at increased risk for committing suicide when they lost a parent in an accident, it is important to employ suicide prevention strategies with these specific groups. One strategy to prevent suicide in these children and teens is for family members, teachers, and coaches to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Warning signs for suicide include: talking or writing about suicide or death, depression, a sudden shift in mood, strong anger or rage, hopelessness, helplessness, doing poorly at school or work, recklessness, giving away prized possessions, writing a will, alcohol and/or drug abuse, personality changes, impulsiveness, changes in eating and/or sleeping habits, and/or withdrawing from family and friends.
If you or someone you love is depressed, encourage him or her to seek professional help. Talking to a therapist or psychologist can be very helpful in dealing with feelings of depression. Medication, such as anti-depressants may also be appropriate for treating depressive symptoms. Remember to always take suicide threats seriously; if someone you love talks about suicide, it is a major warning sign that he or she is thinking about taking his or her own life. Ensuring that he or she gets help can save your loved one’s life. It is also important to get help for someone who displays any of the warning signs mentioned above.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and feel you are in immediate danger, please call 911 or your local emergency number (if you do not live in the United States). Additionally, if you need to talk to someone about any suicidal thoughts or feelings you are experiencing, but feel you are not in immediate danger, you may call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). This is a national suicide hotline for individuals in the United States.
Several factors may put an individual at risk for committing suicide. A new study indicates that these factors may include having a parent who committed suicide or having a parent who died suddenly in an accident. If you think that you or someone you love is suicidal, please get yourself or your loved one the help he or she deserves.
Yellow Ribbon: Warning Signs & Risk Factors of Suicide:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Risk Factors for Suicide:
Psych Central: Parental Suicide Places Child at Risk:
Suicide: Suicide Warning Signs: