MONDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Teenagers who were adopted
may be at greater risk of a suicide attempt than kids raised by
their biological parents, a new study suggests.
The study of more than 1,200 Minnesota teens found that those
who were adopted were four times more likely to have attempted
suicide. More than 8 percent of adopted girls and 5 percent of boys
had tried to take their own lives, compared to less than 2 percent
of non-adopted kids.
However, the lead researcher was quick to stress that parents
should not be overly alarmed. "Most of these [adopted] kids were
psychologically well-adjusted," said Margaret Keyes, a research
assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota in
But she suggested that parents and doctors be aware of the
relatively higher risk among adopted teens who are showing other
potential risk factors for suicide, such as substance abuse or
problems at school.
The findings, published online Sept. 9 in
Pediatrics, are in line with what's known about adopted
children's mental well-being, said an expert not involved in the
"We do know that there is a higher rate of psychopathology in youths who are adopted," said Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
"Psychopathology" is a general term for mental health symptoms, including anxiety disorders and depression. And poorer mental health is a risk factor for suicide attempt.
So these new findings are "not surprising," Fornari said, but
they do raise awareness.
"Adolescence, in general, is a period of higher risk [for suicide attempt]," he said. "And now there's evidence that the risk may be relatively higher for adopted adolescents."
Fornari said the "speculation" has been that adopted kids'
biological parents may, in general, have a higher-than-average rate
of psychiatric conditions. So that may affect their children's odds
of mental health issues.
Keyes agreed that genes may be important. It's also possible,
she said, that adopted children have more difficulty with social
The findings are based on 692 teens who were adopted before the
age of 2 years. Three-quarters were from outside the United States,
mostly South Korea. Keyes and colleagues compared these teens with
540 non-adopted Minnesota teens. The teenagers and their parents
were interviewed at the study's start, and again three years
Over those three years, the researchers found, adopted kids were
more likely to have attempted suicide. Thirty-one adopted girls and
16 adopted boys had tried it at least once.
That gender gap is what you'd expect, Fornari said. "Boys are 10
times more likely to complete a suicide, because they use more
lethal means," he said. "But girls are about 10 times more likely
than boys to attempt suicide."
Adopted teens also tended to have more problems that can be
associated with suicide risk -- such as behavior problems at school
and "family discord." But even when the investigators factored in
those differences, adopted kids were still nearly four times more
likely to have attempted suicide than non-adopted teens.
And although the majority of the teens were adopted from other
countries, Keyes said there was no evidence they were at greater
risk of suicide attempt than U.S.-born adoptees.
Fornari agreed that parents of adopted kids need not be alarmed,
but should be aware. He suggested they do the same things any
parent should. "Listen to your kids," he said. "The more tuned in
you are to their problems, the better you'll be able to notice when
there may be a problem and you need to get help," he explained.
"Sometimes," Fornari added, "parents can get stuck in being angry over adolescent rebellion and miss the problems that may be underlying it."
And health professionals should listen to parents who are
worried, Keyes said. Sometimes, she noted, adoptive parents can be
labeled as overly protective.
"But their concerns should be taken seriously," Keyes said.
The National Association of School Psychologists has advice on
teen suicide prevention.
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