Suicidal behaviour in adolescents: associations with parental marital status and perceived parent-adolescent relationship

Kaat Ponnet, Robert Vermeiren, Ine Jespers, Belo Mussche, Vladislav Ruchkin, Mary Schwab-Stone, Dirk Deboutte
Journal of Affective Disorders 2005, 89 (1): 107-13

BACKGROUND: Because equivocal findings exist with regard to the relationship between adolescents' suicidal behaviour and parental marital status, the aim of this study was to investigate this relationship and in particular the effect of the perceived parent-adolescent relationship on this association, taking into account the role of gender.

METHOD: For this purpose, self-report surveys were administered to a representative school-based sample of 2707 adolescents in Antwerp (Belgium).

RESULTS: 1) Boys living in a single parent family reported more suicidal ideations and self-harming behaviour than boys living in an intact family or in a remarried family; 2) Girls living in a remarried family reported more suicidal ideations and self-harming behaviour than girls living in an intact or in a single parent family; 3) Even after controlling for the levels of perceived parent-adolescent relationship, these associations remained significant.

LIMITATIONS: The cross-sectional design, the retrospective assessment of suicidality and changes in family structure, the lack of external information and the assessment of the parent-adolescent relationship for both parents together, may have influenced the findings.

CONCLUSIONS: When assessing risk factors for adolescent suicidality, marital status of the parents may bear clinical importance. In contrast to other studies, the perceived parent-adolescent relationship did not alter this association, a finding that needs further study.

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