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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Parental Suicide and Vulnerable Children

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 23rd 2010

Parental Suicide and Vulnerable ChildrenWhen 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.


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

suicide and mental illness - - Feb 19th 2011

My bio father and my eldest son committed suicide. My youngest son is schizoaffective and bi-polar. My belief is that the mood swings and mood disorders are the root cause of many behaviors such as substance abuse, criminal behavior and domestic violence.  The simple fact of the matter is society does not wish to use tax dollars to help treat and and look for a cure for these illnesses. Just an aside my youngest son has taken the necesary step to make sure he does not father a child.

Loss - tammy - Nov 29th 2010

My cousin committed suicide on 11/23/10 at age 42.  Left behind 2 boys 13, 10 and a wife.  His father also committed suicide when he was 5.  I cannot help but wonder how much that effected him - from speaking to family he has dealt with this for a very very long time - the part I have the hardest time understanding is - if it effected him so badly why would you do that same hurtful thing to your own sons.  The boys are mature, well spoken, idolize their mother and obviously very hurt. I want so bad to say something - I want them to have counseling or talk to somone so they don't feel the way he did that brought him to that decision the day before his son's birthday and Thanksgiving weekend.

agree - - Sep 11th 2010

I also agree with all of the above, as a daughter of suicide and sexual abuse the most important thing you can do, for a child that has gone through such a traumatic experience, is give them attention and love. In cases where the child has been fostered/been taken care of by another family member/family friend... It's so important that the whoever takes the child in..understands exactly what they are getting into and provides the child with treatment to deal with their emotions. They will lie, steal do whatever it takes to test "boundries" all just to show "you realy don't care/or don't want me around"...At the end of the day IF the family has no understanding of this; the child will not be able to cope.

Response - Mark - Apr 27th 2010

I think that it is highly possible that a child who has a parent that commits suicide has a higher likelihood of committing crimes; however, i don't think that this criminal behavior is necessarily related to what happened to the parent. On another note, it may also seem that everyone who gets in a car accident has eaten carrots in the past month, but that doesn't necessarily mean that carrots lead and possibly caused said car accident.  It seems more likely that children who have a parent who commits suicide are already surrounded by a troubled upbringing, therefore, it is this factor that may be responsible for their criminal mischief.  For example, the parent may have commited suicide due to lack of money to support the family, therefore, the child may begin stealing to support oneself and ones family. Furthermore, I totally agree that depression and other such illnesses should be watched out for in these children.   

i m agree with ur sugs - kevin - Apr 25th 2010

i m with u , but i think when child or teenager lost there love one then they need love and extra care and they need to value of there life which their mom or dad who did sucide did not respect them, we need to develop a right aim or target for them , when they feel they hve to avhieve this target than, they ll not thinking about that think , and if they think abut that , they ll feel engetic because they  develop power to fight with hudles. so we need to motivate those child this way also ,



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