Thursday, May 16, 2024

Suicidal Thoughts in Mothers Associated With Preschooler Aggression

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors in mothers are associated with aggressive behavior in their preschool-aged children, according to a study published this week in Psychiatry Research.

“Maternal history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors has been identified as a robust risk factor for offspring psychopathology and [suicidal thoughts and behaviors],” wrote Maureen Zalewski, Ph.D., of the University of Oregon and colleagues. “However, research in this area has focused almost exclusively on this risk pathway in adolescent and young adult samples, with very little work examining the impact of maternal history of [suicidal thoughts and behaviors] on their children early in development.”

Zalewski and colleagues recruited 178 mothers of 3-year-old children. Mothers were assessed for suicidal thoughts or behaviors at baseline and during follow-up assessments four months, eight months, and 12 months later. At these assessments, the mothers also reported on their child’s internalizing problems, attention problems, aggressive behavior, and temperaments. The authors also contacted the children’s preschool teachers or daycare providers, who completed online questionnaires assessing the emotions and behaviors they observed in the preschool or daycare settings. The final analysis included 158 mothers with complete data.

About 55% of the mothers had histories of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and 20% had scores that indicated clinically significant suicidal risk. Maternal history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors was significantly associated with mother-reported negative affect and aggressive behavior in their children, but not internalizing or attention problems. Additionally, maternal history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors was significantly associated with child aggressive behavior as reported by preschool teachers or daycare providers.

“Importantly, these associations were observed during a developmental window that typically precedes the onset of [suicidal thoughts and behaviors], which has important implications for etiological models of suicide risk transmission,” the authors concluded. “Encouraging practitioners who are treating high-risk mothers of young children to screen for child emotional and behavioral problems as well as parenting quality may be particularly important during the preschool period.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Addressing Maternal Mental Health: Progress, Challenges, and Potential Solutions.”

(Image: Getty Images/iStock/Caiaimage/Robert Daly)

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