Parental Death In Childhood Raises Suicide Risk

Suicide risk may be strongly influenced by events that happen early in life.

Someone who experiences the death of a parent during their childhood faces a much higher long-term risk of suicide compared to those whose parents did not, according to a Scandinavian study.

Mai-Britt Guldin, PhD, of Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues examined register data between 1968 and 2008 in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden that included 7.3 million children. Of that figure, 189,094 children had a parent who died before they reached 18 years old. Researchers then matched those children with other children who did not have a parent die to compare the long-term suicide risks after the death of a parent.

Over a follow-up period of 25 years, the absolute risk of suicide was 4 in 1,000 for boys who experience parental dead in childhood, while the figure was 1 in 1,000 for girls, the researchers reported in JAMA Psychiatry. In the bereaved group, 0.14% of individuals committed suicide during the follow-up period, compared to 0.07% in the comparison group.

The incidence rate was higher in the bereaved group among individuals whose parent had died before they reached the age of 6. Overall, the risk in this group remained elevated for 25 years.

“Parental death in childhood is, irrespective of cause, associated with an increased long-term risk of suicide,” the researchers concluded. The consequences of parental death in childhood are far-reaching, and suicide risk trajectories may be influenced by early-life conditions.


Guldin M-B, et al. Incidence of Suicide Among Persons Who Had a Parent Who Died During Their Childhood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015; doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2094.