Is Suicide Contagious?

Is Suicide Contagious?

Parents Who Attempt Suicide May Pass it On to Children

children of suicide

According to a new study from the University of Pittsburg, children of parents who’ve attempted suicide are nearly five times as likely to attempt suicide themselves.

Any factor that makes someone almost five times as likely to attempt to kill themselves is serious business. Equally alarming is the fact that researchers aren’t quite sure why a parent’s suicide attempt makes children more likely to try themselves. They’ve developed some theories, but have yet to come to a definitive conclusion.

The study, published in late 2014 in the JAMA journal Psychiatry, is an attempt by scientists to learn how suicide is transmitted through families.

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New Statistics on Suicide

The study examined over 700 children (with ages ranging from ten to fifty years old) of 334 parents with mood disorders. Of the 334 parents, 191 (roughly 57%) had attempted suicide before. On average, researchers examined the children for over five years.

Researchers found that, prior to the study, just over 6% of the children had attempted suicide before. During the five years of research, another 4% attempted suicide.

Episodes of depression also increased during the course of the study. During the first two years, almost 30% of the children reported experiencing depression. By the end of five years that number rose to just over 48%.

The question that’s on my mind is why? Why are children of suicidal parents more likely to attempt to kill themselves? Why are children of suicidal parents more likely to experience depression?

New Theories on Suicide

Part of the reason for the above numbers is surely environmental. If either of my parents attempted suicide, I imagine I’d be prone to depression. If this depression was left unchecked, it’s not a stretch to imagine suicide looking like a viable option.

What else, though? Surely that can’t be the sole contributing factor to why suicide seems to run in families.

It’s not. Researchers found that mood disorders elevated suicidal ideations and the risk of a suicide attempt. They also found that impulse aggression played a large role. Interestingly enough, they found that “child maltreatment” did not play a role in familial suicide attempts.

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Suicide Prevention

What does this new information mean for preventing suicides? Or, to put it another way, how can these statistics and theories be used to save lives?

family suicide

Well, they suggest that not only is genetic and family history important, but in fact it’s vital to preventing suicide attempts. Think about it, if someone has a family history of clinical depression, with or without suicide attempts, that person is significantly more at risk for attempting suicide.

Likewise, if a family has a history of say Borderline Personality Disorder, all members of that family should undergo psychiatric evaluation. While this may sound a bit extreme, it absolutely isn’t. These evaluations may be able to not only uncover suicide risk factors for the family, but also aid ongoing suicide research.

This type of proactive research is how suicide should be treated. Rather than waiting for someone to attempt to kill themselves and going back through their family’s psychiatric history, let’s take a preemptive approach.

It’s through this hands on approach that we’ll be able to see a real impact made on reducing suicide and suicide attempts.

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