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If Parents Attempt Suicide, Children Are More Likely To Attempt It Too

By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - The children of people who attempted suicide, regardless of whether they have a mood disorder themselves, have a four- to five-fold increased risk of trying to take their own lives, according to a new study.

While mood disorders play a role in a person's risk of attempting suicide, the study's lead author told Reuters Health that the study suggests there are other factors that need to be explored and explained.

"What that really means is that there is still part of this (family) transmission that we haven't figured out," said Dr. David Brent, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Previous studies have found that people with a family history of suicide attempts are at increased risk for suicide attempts, too. Those studies suggested a family history of mood disorders as the reason, but they only followed participants for one or two years, Brent and his coauthors note.

For the new study, Brent's team followed the children of people with mood disorders for a longer period to look at the possible connections between parental suicide attempts, the offspring's suicide attempts and mood disorders.

Between 1997 and 2012, 701 people between the ages of 10 and 50 were followed for about six years each. The study participants were the children of 334 people with mood disorders, 191 of whom had made a suicide attempt.

The researchers found that about 6 percent of the participants reported a suicide attempt before they entered the study and about 4 percent made an attempt while enrolled.

Brent and his colleagues write in JAMA Psychiatry that the children of the people who reported suicide attempts were about five times more likely to attempt taking their own lives.

While accounting for mood disorders lessened the magnitude of the increased risk associated with the parent's attempt, the children still had a four-fold greater likelihood of attempting suicide.

The researchers thought the trait of impulsive aggression, which has been linked to suicidality, might explain the offspring's suicide risk, but it didn't. Instead, impulsive aggression predicted the presence of mood disorders, which in turn partly explained the increased suicide risk.

The good news, according to Brent, is that there are treatments for mood disorders and impulsive aggression that may help some people.

About one million American adults, or 0.5 percent of the U.S. adult population, report having made a suicide attempt within the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also says that among young people ages 15 to 24, there are 100 to 200 suicide attempts for every one completed suicide.

Brent said that the children of people with a history of suicide attempts should not be overly concerned about the study's finding of increased risk to them. "It's still extremely rare," he said.

"I think it's just a wakeup call," Brent said. "Just like if you have a family history of breast cancer or colon cancer. You'd be vigilant of that."

SOURCE: JAMA Psychiatry, online December 30, 2014.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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