Parents are less likely than other adults to commit suicide, research suggests

Monday, August 11th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Adults with children are less likely to commit suicide than those without, and young kids add an extra layer guarding against suicide for women, research published Monday suggests.

Having several children also seemed to help, according to the study involving 18,611 people in Denmark who committed suicide from 1981 to 1997.

``It is widely expected that childbearing is most often a positive life event that may prevent people from ending their life,'' Drs. Ping Qin and Preben Bo Mortensen of Aarhus University in Denmark said in the study.

It is possible ``that the presence of children and/or young children may increase parents' feelings of self worth, possibly based on their perception of being needed,'' the researchers said. Children might also provide emotional support to their parents during tough times, they said.

Researchers also suggested people in better physical and mental health or ``generally leading a happier life'' are more likely to have children.

The study appears in the August edition of Archives of General Psychiatry, published Monday.

The results confirm some previous data but also ``fly in the face'' of some assumptions about the impact of having children, said psychologist David C. Clark of Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

For example, given the prevalence of postpartum depression, which experts think occurs in at least 10 percent of pregnancies, it might be assumed that suicide would be more common among parents and especially mothers, Clark said.

Also, ``people think having a lot of kids is economically stressful'' and could lead to mental distress or even suicidal thoughts, he said.

But the study illustrates the strength of the biological and psychological bonds that occur between parent and child, and which make parents feel viscerally protective of their children, Clark said.

``In many, many ways, we're biologically shaped to be smitten by little kids,'' he said.

The researchers compared data on suicide victims and a control group.

They found that nearly 47 percent of suicide victims had no children, and fewer than 23 percent had two or more children. By contrast, about 39 percent of control-group participants were childless, and 27 percent had two children.

Only 2 percent of suicide victims had a child younger than age 2, compared with 4 percent of the others.

Suicide victims also were at least twice as likely to have experienced the death of a child.

While it is possible that mentally disturbed people prone to suicide might be less likely to have children, taking into account psychiatric problems did not change the results.

Clark said the study provides valuable information that will help doctors decide in an emergency which patients are more prone to suicide.

``Any little bit of information that comes along that helps us in the middle of the night decide about which patient to admit and watch and which ones to let go home'' is important, he said.