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Parents' Divorce May Contribute to Suicidal Thoughts Years Later

THURSDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Adults who were children when their parents divorced are more likely to seriously consider suicide than adults who grew up in intact families, according to a new study.

University of Toronto researchers looked at 6,647 adults, including 695 who were younger than 18 when their parents divorced. Their parents' divorce affected males and females differently, they found.

Men whose parents divorced when they were children were three times more likely to seriously consider suicide (suicidal ideation) than other men. Adult daughters of divorced parents were 83 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those whose parents stayed married.

The connection between divorce and suicidal ideation was particularly strong for men who grew up in families with childhood stressors, such as physical abuse, parental addiction and parental unemployment.

The link between parental divorce and suicidal ideation was no longer significant among women who did not experience these childhood stressors. But even without these stressors, adult men who were children when their parents divorced still had a twofold increased risk of suicidal ideation compared to men from intact families.

The study was published online Jan. 19 in the journal Psychiatry Research.

The findings suggest "that the pathways linking parental divorce to suicidal ideation are different for men and women. The association between parental divorce and suicidal thoughts in men was unexpectedly strong, even when we adjusted for other childhood and adult stressors, socioeconomic status, depression and anxiety," lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, of the faculty of social work and department of family and community medicine, said in a university news release.

"Females whose parents had divorced were not particularly vulnerable to suicidal ideation if they were not also exposed to childhood physical abuse and/or parental addictions," she said.

The research is "not meant to panic divorced parents," she added in the release. "Our data in no way suggests that children of divorce are destined to become suicidal."

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers tips for divorcing parents.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, Jan. 19, 2011

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