Depressed Parents' Dispositions Influence Suicide Behavior in Offspring

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Parents who are depressed often have children that have mental health issues, but how do parents then relate to children who exhibit suicidal behavior? Research recently published in the the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that the more insecure parents are with their children, the more likely the more severe suicidal behavior in their offspring.

In the study, 244 parents diagnosed with a DSM-IV depressive episode completed the Adult Attachment Questionnaire at study entry. Interviews with their 488 children were conducted at baseline and yearly follow-ups. Data was collected between 1992 and 2008 and analyzed during a longitudinal family studied that finished on Jan. 31, 2014.

Parental avoidant attachment predicted offspring suicide attempts at a trend level (P=0.083). Parental anxious attachment did not predict offspring attempts (P=0.961).

In secondary analyses, anxious attachment in parents was associated with offspring impulsivity (P=0.034) and, in offspring suicide attempters, was associated with greater intent (P=0.045) and lethality of attempts (P=0.003).

Avoidant attachment in parents was associated with offspring impulsivity (P=0.025) and major depressive disorder (P=0.012). Parental avoidant attachment predicted a greater number of suicide attempts (P=.048) and greater intent in offspring attempters (P=0.003). Results were comparable after adjusting for parent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.

Insecure avoidant, but not anxious, attachment in depressed parents may predict offspring suicide attempt,” study researcher Erica K. MacGregor, PhD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City, wrote. “Insecure parental attachment traits were associated with impulsivity and major depressive disorder in all offspring and with more severe suicidal behavior in offspring attempters. Insecure parental attachment merits further study as a potential target to reduce risk of offspring psychopathology and more severe suicidal behavior.”

How Do Depressed Parents Relate to Their Suicidal Children?
How Do Depressed Parents Relate to Their Suicidal Children?

The goal of the study was to investigate relationships of depressed parents' attachment style to offspring suicidal behavior. At study entry, 244 parents diagnosed with a DSM-IV depressive episode completed the Adult Attachment Questionnaire at study entry. Baseline and yearly follow-up interviews of their 488 offspring tracked suicidal behavior and psychopathology.

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