Uprooting Children Raises Their Suicide Risk
The Stress of a Family Move May Have Dire Consequences on Kids
June 3, 2009 -- Job hopping may be financially necessary or rewarding for adults, but Danish researchers say changing residences can be emotionally stressful for children and may increase their suicide risk.
It’s lonely being a stranger in the classroom or new neighborhood, and youngsters can suffer distress from being uprooted from familiar places and faces, says a study in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
“Whatever inspires the move, such experiences during childhood may be traumatic or psychologically distressing and therefore may affect a child’s physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being,” the researchers write. “Some children have difficulties coping with the change and may exhibit their distress as suicidal behavior, the last-resort response to hardship and stress.”
Ping Qin, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Aarhus in Denmark used data from a Danish national registry to identify 4,160 youngsters between 11 and 17 who had their first visit to a hospital for an attempted suicide, and 79 who completed suicide. For each youth who attempted or completed suicide, the researchers compared 30 other children of the same sex and age.
Those who attempted suicide were more likely to have changed residences, the researchers say. They also found that the risk was increased with the more changes there were. They say 55.2% of suicidal children compared to 32% in the control group had moved more than three times, and 7.4% had moved 10 times, vs. 1.9% in the control group.
They also found that compared to children who didn't commit suicide, children who completed suicide moved more often.
Researchers say they found that the more often a child changed addresses, the more likely he or she would be to have attempted or completed suicide.
The associations held up after the researchers controlled for factors such as birthplace and mental health of parents.
“The breakdown of connections with peers, discontinuation of group activities, distress, and worries related to the new environment are potentially psychologically distressing events for young children,” the researchers write. “Frequent exposures to these events can be stressful and confusing and may affect their psychosocial well-being, thus increasing their intention toward ending their life if they are unable to cope.”
As if moving itself isn’t hard enough on kids, it can also stress out their parents, limiting their ability to fill the emotional needs of the children, researchers say.
“Children may feel ignored and have no one to communicate with,” they write.
The study’s findings “suggest the importance of stability on children’s psychosocial well-being.” It also raises questions for parents who move frequently, such as how to minimize the effects on children.