Moving frequently linked to increased suicide risk

Moving TruckA study in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry examined the impact of changes in residence on suicidal behaviour. Dr. Ping Qin and colleagues at the University of Aarhus examined national birth registries to identify all children born in Denmark between 1979 and 1995. They then examined hospital records to find completed or attempted suicides. For each youth who completed or attempted suicide, the researchers used the registry to match 30 others of the same sex and age - a total of over 4100 records were examined. The researchers found that slightly over 55% of those who attempted or completed suicide had moved more than three times, and 7.4% had relocated more than 10 times! This compared to 32% of other youth who moved three or more times and 1.9% who moved on more than 10 occasions. The authors found a "dose-response" relationship between relocation and suicidality. That is, the more often they moved, the more likely they were to have attempted or completed suicide.

The authors proposed a number of possible reasons for the increased suicide risk among youth. Stress associated with adapting to a new environment, along with loss of contact with friends and interruption of participation on clubs and teams, were possibilities. Parental stress surrounding a major life change such as a move might reduce their awareness of the youth's mood, making it less likely that they'd be able to help. The researchers admitted that their data didn't establish a causal link between family moves and suicidality, noting that a third variable could be a precursor to both moves and suicide. Any number of factors could create a situation in which frequent moves are likely, although parental mental health was controlled statistically in this study.

Regardless of the root cause, youth who move frequently appear to be more likely to attempt or complete suicide. Parents and school staff need to be aware of this as a potential risk factor, and should take the emotional reactions of youth to such life stressors seriously. When new students register in high school, administrators need to be aware if frequent relocations are a part of the student's background.

A possible hindrance to addressing the issue has been shown in previous research - teens are more likely to talk to their friends than to professionals about suicidal thoughts. In my experience, these disclosures are often made after swearing the friend to secrecy! Few teens have the experience, resources, knowledge, or maturity to deal with a friend's confession of suicidal thoughts. I think it's essential for parents, counselors, and teachers to talk to young people about the difference between secrets that should be kept and those concerning safety issues that have to be shared.

You can read more about Dr. Qin's study here.

Have you spoken to your children about friendly versus harmful secrets? Leave us a comment!

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.