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December 1996

Suicidal Behavior Runs in FamiliesA Controlled Family Study of Adolescent Suicide Victims

Author Affiliations

From the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(12):1145-1152. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830120085015

Background:  While previous studies have shown an increased rate of suicidal behavior in the relatives of suicide victims, it is unclear if this is attributable merely to increased familial rates of psychiatric disorders. Therefore, we conducted a family study of adolescent suicide victims (suicide probands) and community control probands (controls) to determine if the rates of suicidal behavior were higher in the relatives of adolescent suicide probands even after adjusting for differences in the familial rates of psychiatric disorders.

Method:  The relatives of 58 adolescent suicide probands and 55 demographically similar controls underwent assessment for Axis I and II psychiatric disorders, lifetime history of aggression, and history of suicidal behavior (attempts and completions) using a combination of family study and family history approaches.

Results:  The rate of suicide attempts was increased in the first-degree relatives of suicide probands compared with the relatives of controls, even after adjusting for differences in rates of proband and familial Axis I and II disorders (odds ratio, 4.3; 95% confidence intervals, 1.1-16.6). On the other hand, the excess rate of suicidal ideation found in the relatives of suicide probands was explained by increased familial rates of psychiatric disorders. Among suicide probands, higher ratings of aggression were associated with higher familial loading for suicide attempts.

Conclusions:  Liability to suicidal behavior might be familially transmitted as a trait independent of Axis I and II disorders. The transmitted spectrum of suicidal behavior includes attempts and completions, but not ideation, and the transmission of suicidal behavior and aggression are related.