Researchers obtained data from the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. More than 1,600 families formed a representative sample of new-borns in Quebec, followed from birth to 20 years of age.
While their children aged from five months to seven years, the mothers were asked about their depressive symptoms (like sadness and losing interest in formerly pleasurable activities) at regular intervals.
The information obtained showed only a measure of depressive symptoms and did not result in a clinical diagnosis of depression. Adolescents gave self-reports about suicidal thoughts and attempts at the age of 13-20 years.
Findings showed that the children of mothers with high depressive symptoms were approximately 15% more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide in adolescence than children of mothers with low depressive symptoms.
"We cannot say to what extent this association is due to childhood experiences, genetics, or other factors," said lead author Dr. Lamprini Psychogiou.
"But identifying some of the mechanisms explaining why those children are at increased suicide risk later in life is essential to understand how to prevent suicide among children of mothers with depression."
The author further studied whether feelings of loneliness and social withdrawal reported by the adolescents at age 10-13 years could be a link to suicidal thoughts and attempts later.
Dr. Psychogiou explained "We found that maternal depressive symptoms in the early years of a child's life are associated with those children self-reporting elevated levels of loneliness as adolescents, which, in turn, is associated with suicidality."
She adds that social relationships in general, specifically peer relationships, are significant for adolescents. Feeling lonely in early adolescence can influence one's perception of life as being worth living.
She also states that interventions targeting loneliness in young adolescence for such children may potentially help reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts later in life. Their study did not establish a causal relationship.