Published: 26th January 2021
Children of depressed mothers are most at risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts, new study suggests
The research suggested that this link may be explained by loneliness, potentially opening new ways for youth suicide prevention
According to a recent study, children of mothers experiencing depressive symptoms are more at risk, as adolescents, of experiencing suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide.
The findings of the study were published in the journal 'Development and Psychopathology'. The research suggested that this link may be explained by loneliness, potentially opening new ways for youth suicide prevention.
The study, by the universities of Exeter, Montreal, Laval, and McGill, used data from more than 1,600 families from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, a representative sample of new-borns in Quebec followed from birth to 20 years of age.
Mothers were asked about depressive symptoms, such as sadness and losing interest in formerly pleasurable activities at regular intervals while their children were aged five months to seven years.
The resulting information gave a measure of depressive symptoms - not a clinical diagnosis of depression. Adolescents completed self-reports about suicidal thoughts and attempts at age 13-20 years.
Children of mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms were approximately 15 per cent more likely to have suicidal thoughts and/or attempt suicide as adolescents compared to children of mothers with lower levels of depressive symptoms.
"We cannot say to what extent this association is due to childhood experiences, genetics, or other factors," said lead author Dr Lamprini Psychogiou, of the University of Exeter.
"But identifying some of the mechanisms explaining why those children are at increased suicide risk later in life is essential to understand how to prevent suicide among children of mothers with depression," added Psychogiou.
To this aim, the authors investigated whether feelings of loneliness and social withdrawal reported by the adolescents at age 10-13 years may account for this association.
"We found that maternal depressive symptoms in the early years of a child's life are associated with those children self-reporting elevated levels of loneliness as adolescents, which, in turn, is associated with suicidality," said Dr Psychogiou.
"We do know that social relationships in general, and peer relationships in particular, are really important for adolescents. Feeling lonely in early adolescence may influence how one perceives life as being worth living," added Psychogiou.
Psychogiou noted that the findings are important because they suggest that interventions targeting loneliness in young adolescence for children of mothers with depression, may potentially help reduce their risk of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts later in life.
Further studies are needed to quantify to what extent reducing feelings of loneliness translates into a decrease in suicide risk for those adolescents.