Teens and young adults who come from troubled backgrounds have a greater risk of killing themselves, a new study suggests.
Kids exposed to suicide in the family, parental mental health disorders and substantial parental criminal behavior had the highest suicide rates, the study found.
The findings “emphasize the importance of understanding the social mechanisms of suicide and the need for effective interventions early in life aimed at alleviating the suicide risk in disadvantaged children,” according to study author Charlotte Bjorkenstam from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and her colleagues.
The research included almost 550,000 people from Sweden born between 1987 and 1991. The study participants’ health was followed until age 24. During the follow-up period, there were 431 suicides.
The researchers investigated the links between suicide and seven indicators of childhood adversity between birth and age 14. These included: death in the family (suicide analyzed separately); parental substance abuse; parental psychiatric disorder; parental criminality; parental separation/single-parent household; household receiving public assistance; and residential instability (two or more changes in place of residence).
Other than parental separation/single-parent household, all the childhood adversity indicators were associated with about a twofold increased risk of suicide, the study authors said.
The risk was especially high among those with two or more childhood adversities, according to the study published April 20 in the BMJ.
The researchers said in a BMJ news release that the study “provides clear evidence that childhood adversities that are common in the general population are associated with an increased risk for suicide in adolescents and young adults.”
However, it’s important to note that the study cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It was only designed to find an association between suicide and certain childhood difficulties. The overall risk of suicide in young people is very low, and most children who experience such adversities won’t go on to take their own lives.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on suicide.