June 2, 2009— -- The risk of suicide increases directly with the number of times a child or adolescent moves, a new study has found.
The study looked at population registries of more than 120,000 children born in Denmark between 1978 and 1995 and found that a total of 4,160 children between the ages of 11 and 17 had attempted suicide. Interestingly, they found that the rates of suicidal behavior increased with the number of times they had changed addresses.
According to the study, those who moved more than three times had more than twice the risk for suicide and those who moved more than 10 times had a four-fold risk.
"I think it's understandable that a lot of moves increase people's risk for suicide," said Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist at Emory University, who was not involved with the study. "Moving is all about losing things, to many people."
But Kaslow said the move was probably just a symptom of other problems -- not the direct cause of the suicide attempt in many cases.
"I think usually what happens is there are multiple things that contribute," she said. "There could be all sorts of other family stressors that are associated with moves."
For many adolescents, she said, moves mean a change of schools and friends -- changes that can disrupt their lives. It is likely to hit adolescents hardest because of how much their friends tie into their identities.
"Adolescence is so much about your peer relationships," Kaslow said.
But she added that a problem associated with moving "also has to do with factors like how are parents making decisions."
The Danish authors of the study, which appeared in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, state in their conclusions that their findings "raise a few critical questions for parents who move frequently, such as whether they have to move and, if so, how to minimize the adverse influence on adolescent children.
"While considering moving, it is important to consider children and their interests. It is always good to involve children, as much as possible, in the process of moving, motivating their participation in all decisions, plans and practical work," they wrote.
Kaslow said involving children is always a good step, particularly since the move is often to help the parents, whether for economic, professional or social reasons.
Parents, however, need to consider the children's emotional needs as well, a step that could be accommodated even if the parents decide to move, and can include things like having the children visit their new home and -- once they move -- their old one, she said.
Kids Who Move May Face Psychological Challenges
"It really helps to plan visits back to where you came from or have friends come to visit with you," she said, noting that this remains important even when technology makes contact easier.
She notes that especially with older children, having one parent stay behind for a year or letting the child stay to finish high school is "worth looking at as a possibility."
Still, Kaslow noted, most children ultimately can make the move successfully.
"While some kids are at increased risk, many, many are not and they do just fine with the move," she said.