Family history of suicide attempts in the children and adolescents worsens their neurocognitive functioning such as, lower executive functioning, shorter attention spans, and poorer language reasoning as compared to those without a family history, as per a largest study by researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
3,507 youth aged 8 to 21, divided into test groups and matched by age, sex, race, and lifetime depression were enrolled in the study. Among them, 501 participants had a family history of suicide.
It was observed that those with a family history of suicide attempt performed significantly lower executive functioning and were worse on tests that measured attention span and language reasoning.
"Executive functioning skills are incredibly important in youth development. Even a small difference could cascade into a progressively larger issue over the course of a child's lifetime, affecting things like academic achievement, mental health, and risk-taking behaviors", says Jason Jones, PhD, lead author and research scientist at Policy Lab and the Youth Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Research Center at CHOP.
Earlier studies have also shown the suicidal tendencies to be highly hereditary. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in children and young adults aged 10 to 24.
"Lower executive functioning may result in poorer decision making and problem solving. It's also been linked to impulsive and aggressive behavior, which has consistently been linked to suicidal behavior. This study shows us the importance of asking about suicide attempts among relatives when conducting clinical evaluations with pediatric patients, as it may be a risk factor for suicidal behavior", says Rhonda Boyd, PhD, co-author and psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP.
The study thereby suggests the need to incorporate these youth and other people at-risk for suicide in the family to cognitive-behavioral therapy.
This helps the youth to verbalize thoughts and feelings, problem-solve, and understand consequences, which in turn addresses executive functioning and language difficulties.