Psychiatric morbidity, violent crime, and suicide among children and adolescents exposed to parental death

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 May;49(5):514-23; quiz 530. doi: 10.1097/00004583-201005000-00012.


Objective: This retrospective cohort study examined the risk for suicide, psychiatric hospitalization, and violent criminal convictions among offspring of parents who died from suicide, accidents, and other causes.

Method: Population-based data from multiple Swedish national registers were linked from 1969 to 2004. Participants were 44,397 offspring of suicide decedents, 41,467 offspring of accident decedents, 417,365 offspring of parents who died by other causes, and 3,807,867 offspring of alive parents. We estimated risk by mode of parental death (suicide, accident, other) and offspring age at parental death (childhood, adolescence, young adulthood).

Results: Offspring of suicide decedents were at greater risk for suicide than offspring of alive parents (incidence rate ratio [IRR] = 1.9; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.4 to 2.5), whereas offspring of accident decedents and other parental death were not at increased risk (p < .001). The risk for offspring suicide differed by the developmental period during which parental suicide occurred. Child and adolescent offspring of suicide decedents were at threefold greater risk for suicide (IRR = 3.0; 95% CI = 1.7 to 5.3; IRR = 3.1, 95% CI = 2.1 to 4.6, respectively). Young adults were not at increased risk for suicide (IRR = 1.3; 95% CI = 0.9 to 1.9). Offspring of suicide decedents had an especially high risk of hospitalization for suicide attempt, depressive, psychotic, and personality disorders. Child survivors of parental suicide were at particularly high risk for hospitalization for drug disorders and psychosis. All offspring who experienced parental death, regardless of mode or age, were at increased risk for violent criminal convictions.

Conclusions: Mode of parental death and offspring age at parental death are associated with offspring long-term risk for suicide and hospitalization for specific psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Death
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Death
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents*
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult