Young people are at the highest risk to attempt suicide within two years after a parent has attempted suicide or has received inpatient care because of a mental disorder.

More than 15,000 teens and young adults were involved in a study which was carried out by a team of researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Copenhagen University in Denmark, and published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. It also demonstrated that teens are more likely to commit suicide than young adults.

In recent years, the number of people committing suicide in Sweden has gone down, however, the incidence of attempted suicide by young adults has dramatically increased in Sweden and other countries in Europe.

Scientists have been aware that kids are more likely to attempt suicide if their parents experienced suicidal behavior and/or mental illness, and previous research also demonstrated that spouses of people who had a sudden heart attack are more likely to attempt suicide.

The team set out to determine the temporal association between the inpatient care for suicide attempt and mental illness, suicide and death in parents, and the likelihood of their kids trying to commit suicide. They were also interested in the children’s age when they attempted suicide.

Results showed that the young people had the highest chance of attempting suicide within two years after a parent, especially the mom, had killed oneself.

The scientists also found that soon after a mother was checked into a psychiatric hospital, daughters, specifically, were more likely to attempt suicide.

The risk of attempted suicide associated with a parent’s attempt or mental illness was highest amongst both female and male adolescents, but then reduced as they got older.

There were 15,193 teenagers and young adults who took part in the study and who were born between 1973 and 1984. These young people attempted suicide when they were between 15 and 31 years old.

The subjects were compared with people of the same sex who were born in the same area, but did not try to take their own lives.

Dr. Ellenor Mittendorfer-Rutz, researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience, concluded:

“We show that young people, particularly teenagers, need support during a period immediately following the admission of a parent into care for mental disorders or suicidal behavior if their own attempted suicide is to be prevented. What’s required, therefore, is effective cooperation between all actors, particularly the adult and child-and adolescent psychiatric services.”

The research received funding from the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS).

Written by Sarah Glynn