Another Risk Factor for Teen Suicide

Adopted children at higher risk for suicide than non adopted children in one study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) There is no research showing that it's possible to successfully "prevent" suicides. But, it is possible to know risk factors so that people can get help, potentially reducing the chance they will attempt suicide.

According to a recent study, one of those risk factors may be having been adopted.

The study found the odds of a suicide attempt were higher among adopted children than non-adopted children.

The reasons are not clear, but there are several possibilities that can be explored through further research.

"Watch for suicide risk factors in your children."

The study, led by Margaret A. Keyes, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, compared the risk of suicide among those who were adopted to those who were not.

The researchers compared 692 adopted children and 540 non-adopted children involved in another study between 1998 and 2008.

All the adopted children had been placed in their homes before they were two years old (average was four months old), and 96 percent had been placed before they were one year old.

The researchers gathered data on how many of the children had attempted suicide — reported by the child or by the parents — by the time of a follow-up when the children were an average age of 18.

The researchers also took into account psychiatric disorder symptoms of the children, personality traits, family environment and how engaged the child was at school.

An analysis of the results revealed that the odds that the adopted children had attempted suicide was 3.7 times greater than the odds of non-adopted children's attempts.

These increased odds existed after taking the other factors into account. Before accounting for the child's mental health and environment, the odds were about 4.2 times greater for adopted children.

The researchers wrote that there could be several reasons for the link between higher suicide risk and having been adopted.

There may be a greater risk that adopted children inherited factors from their biological parents that increased their risk of suicide attempts.

These could include biological parents' substance abuse, suicidal behavior or psychiatric illness, they wrote.

"Factors unique to relinquishment by a biological parent (e.g., early trauma, institutional care, attachment issues) may also elevate risk for suicidal behavior later in life," the authors wrote.

For children adopted from overseas, "loss of cultural identity and ethnic discrimination" might contribute to a weaker attachment to the adoptive family.

These are all possibilities, but they are theories that have not been confirmed by the authors.

"Clinicians should be aware of increased potential for suicide attempt in adopted adolescents who manifest other risks for suicidal behavior," the researchers wrote.

The study was published September 9 in the journal Pediatrics. the research was funded by the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Mental Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 8, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014