Under the Hood

Lower Suicide Risk In Children Linked To Religious Parents

Parents with more belief in the importance of religion were associated with lower risk of suicidal behavior in children in a new study. This was observed regardless of the religious beliefs of the child.

The paper titled "Association of Parent and Offspring Religiosity With Offspring Suicide Ideation and Attempts" was published in JAMA Psychiatry on August 8.

The corresponding author of the study was Dr. Priya J. Wickramaratne of Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

She and her team of researchers used data from a 30-year sample three-generation family study including 214 children from 112 nuclear families. The children were between 6 to 18 years of age.

Their parents were divided into high-risk or low-risk categories for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) because of their grandparents' depression status. The participants were white with most belonging to a Christian religious denomination.

Religiosity in parents and children was measured in two ways: their belief in the importance of religion (religious importance) and their levels of religious attendance. In parents, the former was found to be a robust factor in relation to suicidal behavior among their children.

"In this study, parental belief in religious importance was associated with lower risk for suicidal behavior in offspring independent of an offspring’s own belief about religious importance," the authors wrote.

The association was found even after taking into account other known parental factors such as divorce, parental depression, and suicidal behavior.

The authors noted that further study was required before they could establish a causal relationship as the current data could potentially have some implications. For one, children who attend psychiatric consultations may benefit from clinicians conducting a brief spiritual history with parents.

One of the main limitations of the study was the lack of diversity in the sample size, largely composed of white Christians who lived in Greater New Haven, Connecticut.

This is important to consider since previous studies have suggested that religion may affect suicide rates in different ways around the world. For instance, religious participation in Christianity is quite social as it involves attending church and meeting people after services.

Ning Hsieh, assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University, stated how practitioners of Buddhism, Shintoism, and Taoism are more “individualized,” and less community-based.

"In [East Asia], religious participation may aggravate suicide risk because religious practice does not entail social support and moral guidance from a community of co-religionists," she explained. "At the same time, the protective effects of religious participation in English-speaking and Latin American countries are attributable to these countries’ relatively higher levels of religious integration and regulation."

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.