Adopted teens more likely to attempt suicide, study finds

September 9, 2013 by Amy Norton, Healthday Reporter
Adopted teens more likely to attempt suicide, study finds
Parents should be aware, but not unduly alarmed, researcher says.

(HealthDay)—Teenagers who were adopted may be at greater risk of a suicide attempt than kids raised by their biological parents, a new study suggests.

The study of more than 1,200 Minnesota found that those who were adopted were four times more likely to have attempted suicide. More than 8 percent of adopted girls and 5 percent of boys had tried to take their own lives, compared to less than 2 percent of non-adopted kids.

However, the lead researcher was quick to stress that parents should not be overly alarmed. "Most of these [adopted] kids were psychologically well-adjusted," said Margaret Keyes, a research assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

But she suggested that parents and doctors be aware of the relatively higher risk among adopted teens who are showing other potential for suicide, such as substance abuse or problems at school.

The findings, published online Sept. 9 in Pediatrics, are in line with what's known about adopted children's mental well-being, said an expert not involved in the research.

"We do know that there is a higher rate of in youths who are adopted," said Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"Psychopathology" is a general term for symptoms, including and depression. And poorer mental health is a risk factor for suicide attempt.

So these new findings are "not surprising," Fornari said, but they do raise awareness.

"Adolescence, in general, is a period of higher risk [for suicide attempt]," he said. "And now there's evidence that the risk may be relatively higher for adopted ."

Fornari said the "speculation" has been that adopted kids' may, in general, have a higher-than-average rate of . So that may affect their children's odds of .

Keyes agreed that genes may be important. It's also possible, she said, that adopted children have more difficulty with social adjustment.

The findings are based on 692 teens who were adopted before the age of 2 years. Three-quarters were from outside the United States, mostly South Korea. Keyes and colleagues compared these teens with 540 non-adopted Minnesota teens. The teenagers and their parents were interviewed at the study's start, and again three years later.

Over those three years, the researchers found, adopted kids were more likely to have attempted suicide. Thirty-one adopted girls and 16 adopted boys had tried it at least once.

That gender gap is what you'd expect, Fornari said. "Boys are 10 times more likely to complete a suicide, because they use more lethal means," he said. "But girls are about 10 times more likely than boys to attempt suicide."

Adopted teens also tended to have more problems that can be associated with suicide risk—such as behavior problems at school and "family discord." But even when the investigators factored in those differences, adopted kids were still nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than non-adopted teens.

And although the majority of the teens were adopted from other countries, Keyes said there was no evidence they were at greater risk of than U.S.-born adoptees.

Fornari agreed that parents of adopted kids need not be alarmed, but should be aware. He suggested they do the same things any parent should. "Listen to your kids," he said. "The more tuned in you are to their problems, the better you'll be able to notice when there may be a problem and you need to get help," he explained.

"Sometimes," Fornari added, "parents can get stuck in being angry over adolescent rebellion and miss the problems that may be underlying it."

And health professionals should listen to parents who are worried, Keyes said. Sometimes, she noted, adoptive can be labeled as overly protective.

"But their concerns should be taken seriously," Keyes said.

Explore further: High short-term risk of attempted suicide in teenagers following parents' suicide attempt

More information: The National Association of School Psychologists has advice on teen suicide prevention.

Related Stories

High short-term risk of attempted suicide in teenagers following parents' suicide attempt

December 12, 2012
The risk that young people attempt to commit suicide is highest within two years after a parent has received inpatient care due to a mental disorder or suicide attempt, according to a study of over 15,000 teenagers and young ...

Hispanic teens more likely to abuse drugs, survey finds

August 20, 2013
(HealthDay)—Hispanic teens are more likely to abuse illegal and legal drugs than their black or white peers, a new report finds.

Risk for drug abuse in adopted children appears influenced by family, genetics

March 5, 2012
In a national Swedish adoption study, the risk for drug abuse appears to be increased among adopted children whose biological parents had a history of drug abuse, according to a report published Online First by Archives of ...

Кesearcher identifies factors to help parents and professionals recognize teens in distress

October 4, 2012
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, a University of Missouri public health expert has identified factors that will help parents, medical ...

No benefit from screening all patients for suicide risk, report says

April 23, 2013
(HealthDay)—After completing a review of existing research, an expert panel has determined that there is not enough evidence to recommend that all teens and adults be screened for suicide risk factors.

Many U.S. teens at risk for suicide despite treatment

January 9, 2013
(HealthDay)—A new study casts doubt on the value of current professional treatments for teens who struggle with mental disorders and thoughts of suicide.

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.