Your Faith Could Keep Your Child Safe From Suicide

Teen suicide

Kids are less likely to think about suicide or attempt to kill themselves if religion or spirituality is important to their parents, a new study suggests.

And that is true even if the kids themselves didn’t think religion was important, according to the results published in JAMA Psychiatry.

It’s an important finding at a time when the suicide rate for children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 77 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The lower suicide risk among those raised in a religious home is independent of other common risk factors, including whether parents suffered from depression, showed suicidal behavior or divorced.

The new findings came out of a 30-year, three-generation family study conducted by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. At the beginning of that study, researchers rounded up two groups of volunteers: one composed of people who had suffered major depression and the other included people who had not experienced depression. The new study focused on the adult children (generation two) and grandchildren (generation three) aged 6 to 18 years of those initial volunteers.

The feeling that religion or spirituality is important suggests “an inner strength,” said senior study author Myrna Weissman, a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “It isn’t about how much time you spend at church, or which particular religion you are, it’s having an inner belief that gives you some kind of strength that manifests in your behavior. And it is independent of your children’s opinion of religion.”

When the researchers analyzed their data, they found that for girls, but not boys, feeling that religion or spirituality is important was tied to 52 percent lower odds of suicidal behavior. Religious attendance was also linked for girls but not boys with 36 percent lower odds of suicidal behavior compared to those who did not attend.

For both girls and boys, however, higher importance of religion/spirituality in parents was associated with a 39 percent lower risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. The same was not true when it came to parents’ attendance at spiritual services.

An Answer to Soaring Teen Suicide Rates?

Approximately 12 percent of adolescents in the United States report having thoughts about attempting suicide,” said study authors Connie Svob and Priya Wickramaratne of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

“Moreover, suicide is a primary cause of death among females 15 to 19 years of age. In an attempt to gain more insight into this problem and its potential solutions, we wanted to investigate whether a parent’s religiosity might be associated with a lower risk for suicidal ideation/attempts in their children.

“Furthermore, that parents’ belief in religious importance was a stronger predictor than parents’ religious service attendance makes one wonder whether religious importance might be more strongly associated with teaching and beliefs about suicide within the home than is service attendance, or whether some other mechanism might be responsible,” the researchers said.

“Taken together, the findings suggest that, among potential protective factors for suicidal behavior in children, parental religious beliefs should not be overlooked.

“As religiosity is often overlooked in clinical practice, we suggest in our paper that clinicians consider conducting a brief spiritual history with parents of children being brought in for psychiatric consultations, as well as assessing the children’s own religious beliefs and practices,” the authors concluded.

The study is titled “Association of Parent and Offspring Religiosity With Offspring Suicide Ideation and Attempts.”

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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