02 June 2009

Unstable home life ups teen suicide

Children who move houses and relocate often are more likely to try suicide as adolescents, new research from Denmark shows.


Children who move houses and relocate often are more likely to try suicide as adolescents, new research from Denmark shows.

"The findings suggest the importance of stability on children's psychosocial well-being," Dr Ping Qin of the University of Aarhus and colleagues say. In light of the findings, the researchers say, parents should keep children's interests in mind when thinking about moving, and should try to restore family stability as soon after a move as possible.

Nowadays, families often relocate frequently, but little is known about how these moves might affect children's mental health.

How the study was done
To investigate, researchers looked at data for the 124 800 children born in Denmark between 1978 and 1995. Between the ages of 11 and 17, some 4 160 of the children visited a hospital after a reported suicide attempt, and 79 completed suicide.

The more frequently a child had changed residence, the researchers found, the more likely he or she was to have attempted suicide. For example, more than half of the children (55%) who had tried suicide had moved more than three times, compared to 32% of non-suicidal children, while 7.4% of suicidal children had moved over 10 times, compared to 1.9% of the control group.

The relationship between frequent moving and "suicidality" was weakened somewhat when the researchers accounted for psychiatric illness in the child, history of mental illness in parents, and whether the child had lost a parent.

They also found that the influence of frequent moves was the same for boys and girls, and that the age at which children moved didn't affect the strength of the relationship.

Suicide attempts are cries for attention
Frequent moves are stressful for parents and children, the investigators point out. "Children may feel ignored and have no one to communicate with," they add. "A suicide attempt may, to some extent, express the need for more attention from their parents."

The investigators suggest that parents who are thinking about moving should keep their children's interests in mind, and include them in the process as much as possible. "Prompt efforts in re-establishing stable family life and schooling, as well as structured group activities, would advance children's psychosocial development and strengthen protective factors, thus helping them to cope with the new environment," they conclude. – (Reuters Health, June 2009)

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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