Study by NARSAD Grantee Calls for Careful Monitoring of Children Following Parental Suicide

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Holly C. Wilcox, Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University, used a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, expert on depression and suicide
Holly C. Wilcox, Ph.D.

Holly C. Wilcox, Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University, used a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to help fund a study exploring whether the children of parents who committed suicide were more at risk of attempting suicide than children who lost their parents to unintentional injuries. The findings were published online on December 10, 2012 in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The team looked at people age 25 and under in Sweden and compared 26,096 young people whose parents committed suicide with 32,395 whose parents died in accidents. Those with parents who died were divided into age groups for the study: 0-5 years old, 6-12 years old, 13-17 years old and 18-24 years old. The researchers then looked at how much time passed before one of the children was admitted to the hospital for a suicide attempt, or if they were ever admitted.

The team found that offspring whose parents committed suicide were more likely to be hospitalized for a suicide attempt than those who lost parents due to accidents. The level of risk was both time and age dependent. The greatest risk for suicide attempts occurred within five years after a parent’s death. Teenagers and young adults who lost a parent to suicide were at the highest risk of suicide for up to two years. After two years, their risk declined.

"The results suggest critical windows for careful monitoring and intervention for suicide attempt risk, especially one to two years after parental death for the older age groups and over decades for childhood survivors of parental death," the researchers wrote.

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Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
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