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Parental Suicide and Vulnerable Children

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

When children and teenagers lose a parent to suicide they are at an increased risk for committing suicide or a crime, themselves. This is according to a research published in the May 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Why is this so?

There are genetic, developmental, and environmental reasons why children are at an increased risk after a parental suicide.

Genetically speaking, a parent who commits suicide was most probably suffering from either major depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  These three categories of mental illness can be inherited. Therefore, there is a very good chance that a child can inherit the illness that caused the parental suicide.

Developmentally speaking, young children and teenagers are in great need of parenting.  During these critical stages of life.  The loss of a parent for any reason can have a devastating impact on youngsters.  This is why children can’t respond to the loss of parent would feel things of abandonment, guilt and endless grieving.

Environmentally speaking, there are often extremely difficult circumstances prior to and after the death of the parent.  It is safe to assume that a parent who has committed suicide was depressed or emotionally on available for a long period of time.  Because depression often brings with it such problems as anger, substance abuse and marital tension that the home environment is extremely difficult for young children and teenagers prior to and after the suicide.

How to help?

There was nothing inevitable about the loss of a parent bringing about a child’s suicide.  Close family and friends need to embrace children and teenagers after such a tumultuous event.  Children need to be stored, that they are loved and that they are not at fault.  This is love and attention needs to continue long after the event occurred.  It is equally important for family and friends to watch out for any signs of depression in the child.

It is interesting to note that the findings in the research included the fact that some youngsters can turn to criminal activity.  We thought about more clearly, this is less surprising than might otherwise be thought.  Children have difficulty expressing their emotions in ways that are verbal, and direct.  That is why problems such as depression and anxiety can be expressed through acting out.  In other words, some children who lose a parent to suicide may express their grief by stealing things.  What this points to is the fact that children need an extra amount of love and attention when a parent dies.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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