Low birth weight “doubles adolescent suicide risk”

Babies who are born with a low birth-rate, as well babies of teenage mothers, are at double the risk of committing suicide in adolescence according to an in-depth Swedish study published in the Lancet last weekend.

There is evidence of a strong connection between pregnancy and birth complications and psychological illness such as schizophrenia and depression. However, the authors also warn that the understanding about this link between reduced birth weight, young mothers, and the risk for suicidal behaviour is limited.

Until now, only sparse and contradictory results about an association between adverse neonatal, obstetric, and maternal conditions and heightened suicide risk in adolescents had been reported.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm analysed information from 713,370 youngsters in the public register born between 1973-1980. This group was then followed up in 1999. During that period there were 563 suicides (of which 397 were men) and 6676 suicide attempts (of which 4763 were women) in the study group.

A birth weight of between 0.8-2.5 kg more than doubled the risk of suicide, compared to those who weighed 3.25-3.75 kg at birth. If the mother was 19 years old or younger the risk for suicidal behaviour in the adolescent years was also doubled, taking into account univariate and multivariate hazard ratios.

Length also seems to play a part, and babies that were 39-47 cm long at birth also had an increased risk of about 19%, compared to those babies who were 50-51 cm at birth.

The study was conducted together with the Swedish National and Stockholm County Council Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP). Although the overall suicide rate has steadily been declining in Sweden, the exception is among youngsters between 15 and 19 years of age.

In 2000 127 youngsters between the ages of 13-25 committed suicide, of which 92 were young men, and 35 young women. The number or people attempting suicide is higher among girls than boys.

Sources: Dagens Medicin, Svenska Dagbladet, Vårdguiden

Lysanne Sizoo

Lysanne Sizoo is a certified Counsellor, specialising in bereavement, fertility and cultural assimilation issues. She also runs a support and discussion group for English speaking women. You can contact her on [email protected], or 08 717 3769. More information on www.sizoo.nu.