Youth with family history of suicide attempts have worse neurocognitive functioning

January 11, 2021

Philadelphia, January 11, 2021 - Children and adolescents with a family history of suicide attempts have lower executive functioning, shorter attention spans, and poorer language reasoning than those without a family history, according to a new study by researchers from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania. The study is the largest to date to examine the neurocognitive functioning of youth who have a biological relative who made a suicide attempt.

The findings, which were first published online last March, were published in the January 2021 edition of The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at 3,507 youth aged 8 to 21. Of those, 501 participants had a family history of suicide, defined as a fatal or non-fatal suicide attempt by a first-degree biological relative like a parent, full sibling, or child. Participants were divided into test groups and matched by age, sex, race, and lifetime depression. Researchers found that those with a family history of suicide attempt had significantly lower executive functioning and performed worse on tests that measured attention span and language reasoning. The differences in test scores could not be explained by overall psychiatric problems, suicidal ideation, trauma exposure, or socioeconomic status, leading scientists to believe family history of suicide attempt is the contributing factor.

"Executive functioning skills are incredibly important in youth development," said Jason Jones, PhD, lead author and research scientist at PolicyLab and the Youth Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Research Center at CHOP. "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."

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in children and young adults aged 10 to 24. Previous research has shown suicidal tendencies to be highly hereditary.

"Lower executive functioning may result in poorer decision making and problem solving," said Rhonda Boyd, PhD, co-author and psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP. "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."

The researchers say cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as helping youth verbalize thoughts and feelings, problem-solve, and understand consequences, may help address executive functioning and language difficulties. They also suggest incorporating other family members in early intervention, as other people in the family may be at-risk but not yet show risk signs for suicidal behavior.
About Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation's first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children's Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 595-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Related Mental Health Articles from Brightsurf:

Mental health strained by disaster
A new study found that suicide rates increase during all types of disasters -- including severe storms, floods, hurricanes and ice storms -- with the largest overall increase occurring two years after a disaster.

The mental health impact of pandemics for front line health care staff
New research shows the impact that pandemics have on the mental health of front-line health care staff.

World Mental Health Day -- CACTUS releases report of largest researcher mental health survey
On the occasion of 'World Mental Health Day' 2020, CACTUS, a global scientific communications company, has released a global survey on mental health, wellbeing and fulfilment in academia.

Mental illness, mental health care use among police officers
A survey study of Texas police officers examines how common mental illness and mental health care use are in a large urban department.

COVID-19 outbreak and mental health
The use of online platforms to guide effective consumption of information, facilitate social support and continue mental health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic is discussed in this Viewpoint.

COVID-19 may have consequences for mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be adversely affecting mental health among hospitalised patients, the healthcare professionals treating them and the general population.

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.

Mental ill health 'substantial health concern' among police, finds international study
Mental health issues among police officers are a 'substantial health concern,' with around 1 in 4 potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder and depression, finds a pooled data analysis of the available international evidence, published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Examining health insurance nondiscrimination policies with mental health among gender minority individuals
A large private health insurance database was used to examine the association between between health insurance nondiscrimination policies and mental health outcomes for gender minority individuals.

Mental health care for adolescents
Researchers examined changes over time in the kinds of mental health problems for which adolescents in the United States received care and where they got that care in this survey study with findings that should be interpreted within the context of several limitations including self-reported information.

Read More: Mental Health News and Mental Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to