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Family Ties May Help Prevent Teen Suicide

Bonds with parents, more than peers, are key, study finds

THURSDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- Adolescents typically consider their friends their most important relationships.

But new research shows its support from mom and dad, not friends, that helps prevent suicidal behavior in teens who've experienced depression or have attempted suicide in the past.

Depression during high school and a previous suicide attempt were significant predictors of thinking about suicide one or two years later, according to a study that was to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Suicidology, in San Francisco.

Young people who were depressed or had attempted suicide in high school were less likely to have suicidal thoughts if they had strong family support and bonds. Having a girlfriend or boyfriend also helped.

"Our findings suggest that the protective quality of family support and bonding, or having an intimate partner, are not replaced by peer support and bonding in emerging adulthood," said James Mazza, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology.

Bonding refers to a young adult's closeness with family or a romantic partner and the ability to talk with them about important issues.

"Peers don't provide the same type of safety net that comes from a family or by having an intimate partner," Mazza said. "When it comes to suicidal behavior, young adults may feel that their family or partner may be more accepting and less judgmental than perhaps some of their peers."

Data for the research was drawn from a larger National Institute of Drug Abuse 15-year study of youth in a Seattle-area school district that looked at risk factors for marijuana and cigarette use, binge drinking, depression and past suicidal behavior.

Even if teens act as if they don't need their parents' help, research suggests they do.

"Parents shouldn't give up on their adolescents, because our work indicates they still rely on them in this kind of situation," Mazza said.

More information

Mental Health America has more on teen suicide.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, April 13, 2009

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