Suicidal children grow up: suicidal behavior and psychiatric disorders among relatives

C R Pfeffer, L Normandin, T Kakuma
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1994, 33 (8): 1087-97

OBJECTIVE: This paper reports comprehensive data on psychiatric symptoms and disorders and medical problems of first- and second-degree biological relatives of prepubertal children who have contemplated or attempted suicide.

METHOD: Standard family study and family history interview techniques were used to obtain information about psychopathology and medical illness in 488 first- and 1,062 second-degree relatives of 25 child psychiatric inpatients who reported suicide attempts, 28 child psychiatric inpatients who contemplated suicide, 16 nonsuicidal child inpatients, and 54 normal children.

RESULTS: Suicidal behavior in children was associated with suicidal behavior in their families, although no first-degree relatives committed suicide. More first-degree relatives of child suicide attempters, compared to first-degree relatives of normal children, had antisocial personality disorder, assaultive behavior, and substance abuse. Mood disorders in first-degree relatives were not associated with child suicidal behavior. No significant associations were identified for psychopathology of second-degree relatives and child suicidal behavior.

CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest the importance of evaluating familial psychopathology during assessments of suicidal children. Self-directed and externally directed violence, antisocial personality disorder, and substance abuse of relatives of suicidal children should be studied to elucidate the etiology of youth suicidal behavior.

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