Year: 2018 Source: Crisis. (2018), 39(1), 27-36. SIEC No: 20180653

Background: We investigated the age at exposure to parental suicide and the risk of subsequent suicide completion in young people. The impact of parental and offspring sex was also examined. Method:Using a cohort study design, we linked Taiwan’s Birth Registry (1978–1997) with Taiwan’s Death Registry (1985–2009) and identified 40,249 children who had experienced maternal suicide (n = 14,431), paternal suicide (n = 26,887), or the suicide of both parents (n = 281). Each exposed child was matched to 10 children of the same sex and birth year whose parents were still alive. This yielded a total of 398,081 children for our non-exposed cohort. A Cox proportional hazards model was used to compare the suicide risk of the exposed and non-exposed groups.

Results: Compared with the non-exposed group, offspring who were exposed to parental suicide were 3.91 times (95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.10–4.92 more likely to die by suicide after adjusting for baseline characteristics. The risk of suicide seemed to be lower in older male offspring (HR = 3.94, 95% CI = 2.57–6.06), but higher in older female offspring (HR = 5.30, 95% CI = 3.05–9.22). Stratified analyses based on parental sex revealed similar patterns as the combined analysis.

Limitations: As only register-­based data were used, we were not able to explore the impact of variables not contained in the data set, such as the role of mental illness.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest a prominent elevation in the risk of suicide among offspring who lost their parents to suicide. The risk elevation differed according to the sex of the afflicted offspring as well as to their age at exposure.