Parental Mental Health History Confers Suicide, Violence Risks in Offspring

depression, depressed teen, adolescent, young adult
depression, depressed teen, adolescent, young adult
Incidence rate ratios were more increased for parental diagnoses of antisocial personality, cannabis use, and parental suicide attempt.

Children born to parents with psychiatric disorders are more likely to attempt suicide and commit violent offenses, particularly if their parents had antisocial personality disorder, misused cannabis, or had a history of a suicide attempt of their own, found a new study in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Elevated risks for offspring attempted suicide and violent offending were evident across a broad spectrum of parental psychiatric disease,” wrote the authors. “The similarities in relative risk patterns observed for both adverse outcomes indicate that self-directed and interpersonal violence may have a shared etiology.”

Pearl L. H. Mok, PhD, of the University of Manchester in England, and colleagues tracked 1 743 525 adolescents from their 15th birthday onward using Danish medical records. The group comprised the full cohort of those born in Denmark from 1967 to 1997.

The researchers compared the rate of suicide attempts and violent offenses committed among children whose parents had a psychiatric disorder to those whose parents did not carry a mental health diagnosis. The conditions they evaluated included a full range of mental disorders, including dementia, substance abuse/misuse disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders, suicide attempts, and schizophrenia related disorders.

Overall, children of parents with a history of any mental health disorder were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide or commit violent offenses than children whose parents had no mental health conditions. Moreover, those whose parents both had a history of mental illness or suicide attempt had twice the risk of either outcome than those who only had one parent with such a history.

Only a modestly increased risk of suicide attempts or violent offenses was found among children of parents with mood disorders, but certain mood disorders posed a considerably higher risk of suicide in children.

Offspring of parents with antisocial personality disorder were 4 times more likely to attempt suicide and more than 3 times more likely to commit violent offenses compared to those of parents without the diagnosis. Those whose parents misused marijuana were 4 times more likely to commit violent offenses and more than 3 times more likely to attempt suicide. Similarly, the risks of both outcomes were more than 3 times higher among children of parents who had an attempted suicide.

“These associations remained relatively strong even after adjustment for parental [social economic status] SES or other parental disorders, except for the link between parental cannabis misuse and offspring suicide attempt, which was no longer significant after the effects of other parental disorders were accounted for,” the authors reported.

“Shared genetic vulnerability to psychiatric disease may be one possible pathway that could explain our findings, although the intergenerational transmission of suicidal risks has been reported to be independent of familial transmission of mental disorders,” the authors wrote. They recommend early intervention for parental mental disorders as one way to benefit their children as well.

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Mok PL, Bøcker Pedersen C, Springate D, et al. Parental psychiatric disease and risks of attempted suicide and violent criminal offending in offspring: A population-based cohort study. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(10):1015-1022. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1728.