Familial transmission of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts: evidence from a general population sample

Renee D Goodwin, Annette L Beautrais, David M Fergusson
Psychiatry Research 2004 April 30, 126 (2): 159-65
The goals of the study were (1) to determine the association between parental and offspring suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among adult offspring in a general community sample, and (2) to examine the extent to which this association can be explained by mediating processes of mental disorders. Data were drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey (n=8098), a representative household sample of adults aged 15-54 in the United States. The relationships between suicidal ideation and suicide attempts among adult offspring and suicidal ideation and suicide attempt in their parents, compared with those in parents not characterized by suicidal ideation or suicide attempts, were calculated using multiple logistic regression analyses. Analyses were adjusted for differences in sociodemographic characteristics and for mental disorders. Results showed that parental suicidal ideation was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of suicidal ideation [OR=1.7 (1.2, 2.5)] and suicide attempt [OR=1.4 (0.9, 2.1)] among offspring. Parental suicide attempt was associated with increased odds of suicidal ideation [OR=2.0 (1.4, 2.9)] and suicide attempt [OR=2.2 (1.4, 3.4)] among offspring. Comorbid mental disorders contributed to the strength of these associations, but with the exception of the link between parental suicidal ideation and offspring suicide attempt, all remained statistically significant even after adjustment. These data provide initial evidence of familial linkages (parent-offspring) of suicidal ideation and behavior among a sample of adults representative of the US population. The data suggest that comorbid mental disorders contribute to these associations but do not completely account for them. The findings are consistent with and extend results from family, clinical, and high-risk studies suggesting that a familial risk of suicidal ideation and suicide behavior occurs in the general population. Implications for prevention and future research are discussed.

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