Children More Likely to Attempt Suicide After Mothers Kill Themselves

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

Kids who lose a mother to suicide are more likely to attempt it themselves. Credit: Getty Images

People who commit suicide may think they're leaving behind a world of pain and misery, but they're actually creating one.

This is especially true if they're parents -- and even more true if they're mothers.

Suicide obviously often has a devastating impact on those left behind. But researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that children who lost a parent to suicide were three times more likely than other kids to eventually kill themselves, too.

And those odds increase dramatically when it is the mother who takes her own life.

The Los Angeles Times reports between 7,000 and 12,000 children in the United States lose a parent to suicide every year. Researchers wanted to see if there was any kind of pattern to predict which kids might later try to commit suicide themselves.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, followed the children of 14,299 Swedish adults who killed themselves and another 12,080 who died in sudden accidents between 1973 and 2003. Researchers also tracked 40,325 survivors.

Children who lost a father to suicide were more likely than kids whose father died in an accident to be hospitalized for depression or anxiety. But they weren't more likely to commit suicide.

Whether a mother dies accidentally or by suicide, researchers concluded, the magnitude of that loss seems to have a greater impact on a child than when a father dies. They conclude that could be because of the primary caregiver role many women play in the lives of their young children.

The study should be seen as a warning buoy, the study's lead author, S. Janet Kuramoto, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells BusinessWeek.com.

"Pediatricians, surviving parents and educators should be aware of the possible risk and provide appropriate referral sources for these children as needed," she tells the website.

However, she adds, no one should jump to the conclusion that children of suicide victims are automatically messed up.

Most are coping.

"The majority of the offspring -- over 95 percent -- were not hospitalized for suicide attempts during the study period," Kuramoto adds.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.