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Frequent Household Moves Raise Kids' Suicide Risk

More mobile families may be more stressed, researchers say

MONDAY, June 1, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Children from families who pick up and move often may be at higher odds for suicide, a Danish study finds.

In fact, researchers found that the more often a family moved, the more likely it was that a child would attempt or complete suicide.

Despite an increasingly mobile society, "little research has addressed the influence of mobility on children's psychosocial well-being," noted Dr. Ping Qin, associate professor at the University of Aarhus National Center for Register-Based Research.

In the study, Qin and her colleagues were able to get information on all children born in Denmark between 1978 and 1995. Hospital records showed that 4,160 of those children attempted suicide between 11 and 17 years of age, and 79 of those attempts ended in a completed suicide. The researchers then compared each child involved in a suicide attempt with 30 other children of the same sex and age.

The comparison found what the researchers called a "dose-response" relationship -- the number of childhood suicide attempts rose with the number of changes of residence. Among those who attempted suicide, 55.2 percent of the children moved more than three times, compared to 32 percent of those in the control group. And 7.4 percent of children who attempted suicide had moved more than 10 times, compared to 1.9 percent of those in the control group.

A change in residence is just one of many factors that can upset a child enough so that he or she considers suicide, Qin acknowledged. "Suicide is a comprehensive tragedy that can result from many factors," she said. A number of studies have shown that psychiatric problems -- affecting either children or parents -- and a family history of suicide are also important risk factors, Qin said.

Still, moving involves "the breakdown of connections with peers, discontinuation of group activities, distress and worries related to the new environment" that are psychologically distressing, said the study, reported in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"Children may feel ignored and have no one to communicate with. A suicide attempt may, to some extent, express the need for more attention from their parents," Qin said.

And the reasons why families move frequently may help explain the association with pediatric suicide attempts, said Alan L. Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology. Those reasons include "pathology of a parent, unemployment of a parent and divorce -- all of which are related to suicidal behavior," he said. "For children, there is the loss of a social network and also parent's distress."

Steps can be taken by parents, teachers and other caretakers to ease the stress of moving on children, Qin said.

"As a parent with two children, what I did when we moved was to make sure they were very pleased with the new house and their new class," she said. "When children complain too much [about the move], parents should try to figure out what bothers them."

Parents should also be alert for the warning signs of unhappiness that can end in a suicide attempt, Berman said. These include withdrawal, anger, recklessness, mood changes, purposelessness, anxiety and drug abuse.

So when a family moves, "what can be done is to alert individuals and institutions to be aware of the potential impact and to seek help if there are signs of distress," Berman said.

Communication is always very important, Qin said. It is important to find out how children feel about their new environment and whether they have any difficulties.

More information

Review the warning signs of suicidal feelings at the American Association of Suicidology.

SOURCES: Ping Qin, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, University of Aarhus National Center for Register-based Research, Denmark; Alan L. Berman, Ph.D, executive director, American Association of Suicidology, Washington, D.C.; June 2009, Archives of General Psychiatry
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