Parental religiosity was associated with a lower risk for suicidal behavior among offspring, independent of their child’s own belief about religious importance and other parental risk factors like depression, suicidal behavior and divorce, study findings revealed.
“Approximately 12% of adolescents in the United States report having thoughts about attempting suicide. Moreover, suicide is a primary cause of death among females 15 to 19 years of age,” Priya J. Wickramaratne, PhD, from the department of psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, and New York State Psychiatric Institute, told Healio Psychiatry. “In an attempt to gain more insight into this problem and its potential solutions, we investigated whether a parent’s religiosity might be associated with a lower risk for suicidal ideation/attempts in their children.”
Using data from a three-generation family study at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, Wickramaratne and colleagues evaluated the connections between parent and child religiosity and suicidal behaviors in 214 third-generation offspring aged 6 to 18 years from 112 nuclear families. In this study, generations 2 and 3 were defined as being at high or low risk for major depression based on the presence or absence of major depressive disorder in the first generation.
Researchers independently assessed parents’ and offsprings’ psychiatric diagnoses and suicidal behaviors using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia. Measures of religiosity examined included religious importance and religious attendance. Offspring suicidal behaviors were adjusted for sibling correlation and age, sex and familial depression risk status.
Of 214 children, 52.3% of whom were girls, offspring religious importance was tied to a smaller risk for suicidal behavior in girls (OR = 0.48; 95% CI, 0.33-0.7) but not in boys (OR = 1.15; 95% CI, 0.74-1.8; religiosity by sex interaction, P = .05). In addition, girls who reported religious attendance were at lower risk for suicidal behavior (OR = 0.64; 95% CI, 0.49-0.84), but this was not seen in boys (OR = 0.94; 95% CI, 0.69-1.27).
“We found that a parent’s belief in the high importance of religion was associated with an approximately 80% decrease in risk in suicidal thoughts and behaviors in their children compared with parents who reported religion as unimportant,” Wickramaratne told Healio Psychiatry. “This finding was independent of a child’s own belief (or lack of belief) in the importance of religion and independent of other potent parental risk factors.”
For parents, religious importance was linked to a lesser risk for offspring suicidal behavior (OR = 0.61; 95% CI, 0.41-0.91); however, religious attendance was not. When the investigators considered parent and child religious importance simultaneously, they found a lower risk for suicidality tied to parental religious importance (OR = 0.61; 95% CI, 0.39-0.96) that was independent of offspring importance. All connections were independent of parental depression, marital status and parental suicide ideation, the authors reported.
“These findings suggest that, among potential protective factors for suicidal behavior in children, parental religious beliefs should not be overlooked,” Wickramaratne said. – by Savannah Demko
Disclosures: Wickramaratne reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on August 9 with comments from the author.