Monday, March 4, 2013

Parents May Be in Poor Health Prior to a Child's Suicide

Not surprisingly, parents experience considerably more depression, anxiety, marital breakups, and medical illnesses after a child has died by suicide than before this event, a large population study headed by James Bolton, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba in Canada, has found. More surprisingly, though, such grieving parents also have mental health and medical illness vulnerability even before the death of their offspring.

For example, when compared before their offspring died with nonbereaved parents who served as control subjects, the parents of offspring who died had higher rates of depression and anxiety and three times more alcohol abuse or dependence than the latter did. And when they were compared before the death of their child with parents who would later lose a child to motor vehicle accidents rather than suicide, they had higher rates of cardiovascular disease, emphysema, and diabetes.

"These markers of poor health," Bolton and colleagues said in JAMA Psychiatry, "may be explained by factors associated with both mental and physical disorders, such as tobacco use, low levels of exercise, adverse childhood experiences, or poverty. Evidence for the latter is demonstrated by higher rates of low income when comparing suicide-bereaved parents with both nonbereaved controls and motor vehicle accident-bereaved parents...."

If mothers lose a child to an unnatural cause of death, such as suicide, it can also increase their own risk of dying prematurely, another study has found. See details of that study in Psychiatric News.

(Image: Renee Schmidt/


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