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Suicide attempts more common in offspring of depressed parents exposed to suicidal behaviour than unexposed offspring

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Are offspring exposed to suicidal behaviour more likely to attempt suicide than offspring not exposed to suicidal behaviour?


449 offspring (52% male, mean age 19±8 years) aged over 10 years, of 255 probands (83% female, mean age 45±10 years) with diagnosed depressive episodes (81% major depressive disorder, 19% bipolar disorder; DSM-IV). A lifetime history of mood disorder was present in 36% of offspring. Participants were referred from inpatient units, outpatient departments, referring psychiatrists and advertisements.

Main exclusions

Offspring with mental retardation; probands with mental retardation, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.


Two university hospital sites in Pittsburgh and New York; recruitment period not stated.


Exposure to suicide behaviour, assessed by interview with the participants. Suicide attempts were defined as self-injurious behaviour with an inferred or stated intention to die; suicidal ideation was defined as a person thinking about killing themselves. Offspring exposed to suicidal ideation or threat were designated a low-degree exposure group while offspring exposed to suicide attempts or completed suicide were designated a high-degree exposure group. Exposure to suicide was also classified as first-hand (presence at the event) or second-hand (hearing about the event). Comparisons between exposed and non-exposed offspring were made using generalised estimating equations and generalised least-squares models.


Lifetime suicide history using the Columbia Suicide History Form.



Cross-sectional study.

Main results

212 (47%) offspring were exposed to suicidal behaviour (parental suicidal behaviour 33%; non-parental 51%; parental and non-parental 14%). Of exposed offspring, 78% experienced high-degree exposure, with 42% of exposures being first-hand. Proband diagnosis was not related to offspring …

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  • Source of funding National Institutes of Health.


  • Competing interests None.

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