Suicidal mothers

J Inj Violence Res. 2011 Jul;3(2):90-7. doi: 10.5249/jivr.v3i2.98.


Background: Epidemiological research has demonstrated that suicidal ideation is a relatively frequent complication of pregnancy in both developed and developing countries. Hence, the aims of this study are: to assess whether or not pregnancy may be considered a period highly susceptible to suicidal acts; to recognize potential contributing factors to suicidal behaviors; to describe the repercussions of suicide attempts on maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcome; to identify a typical profile of women at high risk of suicide during pregnancy.

Methods: Medical literature information published in any language since 1950 was identified using MEDLINE/PubMed, Scopus, and Google Scholar databases. Search terms were: "pregnancy", (antenatal) "depression", "suicide". Searches were last updated on 28 September 2010. Forty-six articles assessing the suicidal risk during pregnancy and obstetrical outcome of pregnancies complicated by suicide attempts were analyzed, without methodological limitations.

Results: Worldwide, frequency of suicidal attempts and the rate of death by suicidal acts are low. Although this clinical event is rare, the consequences of a suicidal attempt are medically and psychologically devastating for the mother-infant pair. We also found that common behaviors exist in women at high risk for suicide during pregnancy. Review data indeed suggest that a characteristic profile can prenatally identify those at highest risk for gestational suicide attempts.

Conclusions: Social and health organizations should make all possible efforts to identify women at high suicidal risk, in order to establish specific programs to prevent this tragic event. The available data informs health policy makers with a typical profile to screen women at high risk of suicide during pregnancy. Those women who have a current or past history of psychiatric disorders, are young, unmarried, unemployed, have incurred an unplanned pregnancy (eventually terminated with an induced abortion), are addicted to illicit drugs and/or alcohol, lack effective psychosocial support, have suffered from episodes of sexual or physical violence are particularly vulnerable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data