The Heredity of Suicidal Behavior

Suicide is a leading cause of adolescent death in the United States. Screening of any adolescent for emotioal wellbeing therefore must include an examination into their parent(s) own suicidality.

A new study indicates that parents who have attempted suicide, have children who are five times more at risk for making a suicide attempt.

The research illustrates this finding holds true even when giving consideration to the history of previous suicide attempt(s) by the child as well as mood disorder(s) that were passed down to the child, writes David Brent, MD, lead author of the study published today in the Journal of American Medicine Psychiatry (JAMA Psychiatry), and conducted longitudinally out of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Although screenings for mood, anxiety, and behavioral disorders as well as impulsive / aggressive personality disorders, familial conflict, history of abuse and history of head trauma were conducted thoughout the study, unfortunately, the psychiatric mechanisms at play in family transmission of suicidality remain unclear.

Early intervention and assessment in the families of parents with mood disorders and history of any sucide attempt are crucial for these children.

The authors of the study also indicate that preventing the onset of depression may disrupt the familial transmission of sucidiality, reinforcing the need for preventative care and interventions to reduce the risk and onset of depression in high-risk youths.

Strong interventions may yield other dividends as many of these parents had personality disorder(s), and interventions, which include the parent-child relationship, have a strong liklihood of improving these relationships and subsequently the behavioral and emotional health of the chiid.

Focus should start with impulsive / aggressive youth populaitons as such disorders are often an indication of a developing mood disorder (which may ultimately increase risk of suicidal behavior. By treating youth with primary irritability and impulsive aggression symptomologies, an increased ability to regulate emotions may circumvent the developing mood disorder and and the liklihood of these youths acting on impulsivity for self-harm and suicidality.

Although the authors stated they are unclear regarding the specific mechanisms mediating this connection, preliminary findings of a brain imaging analysis at Yale point to the abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex and related brain areas were found in adolescents with Bipolar Disorder who have attempted suicide.


American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 53rd Annual Meeting. Abstract 15.1. Presented December 9, 2014.

Brent DA, Melhem NM, Oquendo M, et al. Familial Pathways to Early-Onset Suicide Attempt: A 5.6-Year Prospective Study. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 30, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.2141

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