Familial pathways to early-onset suicidal behavior: familial and individual antecedents of suicidal behavior

Nadine M Melhem, David A Brent, Melissa Ziegler, Satish Iyengar, David Kolko, Maria Oquendo, Boris Birmaher, Ainsley Burke, Jamie Zelazny, Barbara Stanley, J John Mann
American Journal of Psychiatry 2007, 164 (9): 1364-70

OBJECTIVE: The authors sought to identify clinical predictors of new-onset suicidal behavior in children of parents with a history of mood disorder and suicidal behavior.

METHOD: In a prospective study of offspring of parents with mood disorders, 365 offspring (average age, 20 years) of 203 parents were followed for up to 6 years. Offspring with incident suicide attempts or emergency referrals for suicidal ideation or behavior ("incident events") were compared with offspring without such events on demographic and clinical characteristics. Multivariate analyses were conducted to examine predictors of incident events and predictors of time to incident event.

RESULTS: Offspring of probands who had made suicide attempts, compared with offspring of parents with mood disorders who had not made attempts, had a higher rate of incident suicide attempts (4.1% versus 0.6%, relative risk=6.5) as well as overall suicidal events (8.3% versus 1.9%, relative risk=4.4). Mood disorder and self-reported impulsive aggression in offspring and a history of sexual abuse and self-reported depression in parents predicted earlier time to, and greater hazard of, an incident suicidal event.

CONCLUSIONS: In offspring of parents with mood disorders, precursors of early-onset suicidal behavior include mood disorder and impulsive aggression as well as parental history of suicide attempt, sexual abuse, and self-reported depression. These results suggest that efforts to prevent the familial transmission of early-onset suicidal behavior by targeting these domains could reduce the morbidity of suicidal behavior in high-risk youths.

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