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Mother-daughter conflict, low serotonin level may be deadly combination
Date:3/5/2008

A combination of negative mother-daughter relationships and low blood levels of serotonin, an important brain chemical for mood stability, may be lethal for adolescent girls, leaving them vulnerable to engage in self-harming behaviors such as cutting themselves.

New University of Washington research indicates that these two factors in combination account for 64 percent of the difference among adolescents, primarily girls, who engage in self-harming behaviors and those who do not.

Girls who engage in self harm are at high risk for attempting suicide, and some of them are dying, said Theodore Beauchaine, a UW associate professor of psychology and co-author of a new study. There is no better predictor of suicide than previous suicide attempts.

The paper, co-authored by Sheila Crowell, one of his doctoral students, appears in the current issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Beauchaine said the relationship between the level of mother-daughter conflict and self-harming behavior was not strong. There was a stronger relationship between serotonin levels and self-harming behavior. But when both factors were considered together, the relationship to self-harming behaviors was very strong.

Most people think in terms of biology or environment rather than biology and environment working together, he said. Having a low level of serotonin is a biological vulnerability for self-harming behavior and that vulnerability increases remarkably when it is paired with maternal conflict.

To understand this relationship, the researchers recruited 20 adolescents with a history of self-harming behavior and 21 age-matched adolescents who did not harm themselves. Adolescents were considered self-injuring if they had harmed themselves three or more times in the past six months or five or more times in their lifetimes. The mean age of both groups was 15 years and the participants were predominantly white. Ther
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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