Family Plays a Role in Suicidal Ideation in Children


While many think there is no need to discuss suicidal thoughts before adolescence, new research shows that clearly is not true.


New research shows a disruptive or negligent household can generate suicidal thoughts in young children, according to a cross-sectional study published in JAMA Network Open.1 The findings present new information about the link between family dynamics and suicidal ideation and behaviors in children as young as 9, and possibly earlier.

Young people are vulnerable to suicide with rates steadily rising over the past 3 decades and tripling over the last 10 years.2 In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34.3 However, little is known about what motivates such thoughts and whether family factors can predict or mitigate suicidal thoughts in preadolescent children.

DeVille and colleagues1 sought to evaluate the incidence of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and nonsuicidal self-injury, especially in the context of family dynamics among children aged 9 to 10 years. They examined 11,814 participants of the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. ABCD is national, longitudinal study of brain health in adolescents that also involves parent and caretaker participants.

After accounting for clinical sociodemographic and variables, oppositional family relationships and lack of supervision emerged from self-reports as negative factors that affected children. The researchers reported: “High family conflict was significantly associated with suicidal ideation (odds ratio [OR], 1.12; 95% CI, 1.07-1.16) and nonsuicidal self-injury (OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.05-1.14), and low parental monitoring was significantly associated with ideation (OR, 0.97; 95% CI, 0.95-0.98), attempts (OR, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.86-0.97), and nonsuicidal self-injury (OR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.93-0.98).”

One take-home from this study is the need to better educate parents and those who work with children about suicidal ideation. While many think there is no need to discuss suicidal thoughts before adolescence, this research shows that clearly is not true. The researchers noted, “Kids are having these thoughts. They're not at the same rates as adults, but they are nontrivial."4 Similarly, in some cases, parents and caregivers were not even aware their children were thinking about suicide. Study author Deanna Barch4 added, “If you have kids who are distressed in some way, you should be asking about this," she said. "You can help identify kids that might be in trouble."

Future studies on how the family affects children’s mental health are needed to predict and thwart suicide and self-harm.


1. DeVille DC, Whalen D3, Breslin FJ, et al. Prevalence and Family-Related Factors Associated With Suicidal Ideation, Suicide Attempts, and Self-injury in Children Aged 9 to 10 Years. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Feb 5;3(2):e1920956. Accessed February 10, 2020.

2. Curtin  SC, Heron M. Death rates due to suicide and homicide among persons aged 10–24: United States, 2000-2017. NCHS Data Brief. 2019;(352):1-8

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981 – 2017. Accessed February 10, 2020.

4. Family dynamics may influence suicidal thoughts in children [press release]. Eureka Alert. February 7, 2020.

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