Children of mothers with depression “more likely” to have suicidal thoughts, study reveals

Children of mothers with depression are more likely to attempt suicide in later life, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Exeter, explores new ways to prevent youth suicide.

According to the paper, the researchers looked at the records of more than 1,600 families who had been followed from the birth of their child to 20 years of age, as part of the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.

Over two decades, the mothers had been asked about their mental health and whether they had any symptoms, such as depression, defined as “sadness and losing interest in formerly pleasurable activities”.

Whilst this was not a clinical diagnosis of depression, the researchers argue that it does give an “accurate measure of depressive symptoms”.

Over the same period, the children completed self-reports about “suicidal thoughts” from the age of 13.

The study found that children of mothers with “higher levels of depressive symptoms” were “15 per cent more likely” to have suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide compared to children of mothers with lower levels of depressive symptoms.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Lamprini Psychogiou said: “We cannot say to what extent this association is due to childhood experiences, genetics or other factors.

“But identifying some of the mechanisms explaining why those children are at increased suicide risk later in life is essential to understand how to prevent suicide among children of mothers with depression.”

She added: “Our findings are important because they suggest that interventions targeting loneliness in young adolescence for children of mothers with depression, may potentially help reduce their risk of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts later in life.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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