SCIENCE: Kids With Religious Parents Less Likely To Kill Themselves

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Having religious parents significantly decreases the risk of children having or acting upon suicidal thoughts, according to a study from JAMA Psychiatry.

The study, entitled Association of Parent and Offspring Religiosity With Offspring Suicide Ideation and Attempts, showed that having religious parents was associated with an 80 percent decrease in risk of those parents’ children having suicidal thoughts and behavior. The decrease in risk of suicidal behavior was observed in children with religious parents regardless of whether or not the children themselves adhered to religious belief and practice. (RELATED: Religious Affiliation May Actually Help You Live Longer, Study Says)

“We found that a parent’s belief in the high importance of religion was associated with an approximately 80% decrease in risk in suicidal thoughts and behaviors in their children compared with parents who reported religion as unimportant,” study authors Connie Svob and Priya Wickramaratne of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute told PsyPost.

“This finding was independent of a child’s own belief (or lack of belief) in the importance of religion and independent of other potent parental risk factors (e.g., parental depression, history or suicidal behavior, divorce),” they added.

The researchers noted that parents’ religious beliefs were a better predictor of whether or not their children would display suicidal behavior than how often parents attended religious services. The study authors proposed that this finding suggests religious teaching in the home has more of an association with decreased risk of suicide than consistent service attendance.

Svob and Wickramaratne admitted, however, that the study was limited in scope, as all of the participants were white and the majority of them were some denomination of Christian. The study authors suggested future studies on the subject include more diverse samples.

They also proposed, based on the study’s results, that clinicians conduct a spiritual history interview with parents who bring their children in for psychiatric evaluations and that they evaluate the child’s own religious practices and beliefs, since religion is often overlooked in clinical practices.

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

The study’s authors said that they were motivated to conduct their research in light of the fact that about 12 percent of adolescents report having suicidal thoughts and the fact that suicide is a “primary cause of death among females 15 to 19 years of age.” Gaining more insight into which factors increase or decrease the risk of having those thoughts and behaviors could help in addressing the problem.

The study is based on the analysis of data from 214 children aged six to 18 years from 112 families.

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