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Parental schizophrenia and increased offspring suicide risk: exploring the causal hypothesis using cousin comparisons

  • T. Ljung (a1), P. Lichtenstein (a1), S. Sandin (a1), B. D'Onofrio (a2), B. Runeson (a3), N. Långström (a1) (a4) and H. Larsson (a1)...

Little is known about suicide risk among offspring of parents hospitalized for schizophrenia and the mechanisms behind this association.


We applied a nested case–control design based on linkage of Swedish population-based registers. Among 12- to 30-year-old offspring, we identified 68 318 offspring with suicidal behavior (attempted and completed suicide) and their parents. Five healthy control–parent pairs were matched to each suicidal case–parent pair and conditional logistic regression used to obtain odds ratios (ORs). Further, to disentangle familial confounding from causal environmental mechanisms, we compared the population-based suicide risk with the risk found within full-cousins and half-cousins differentially exposed to parental schizophrenia.


Offspring of parents with schizophrenia had significantly increased suicide risk after accounting for socio-economic status, parental suicidal behavior and offspring mental illness [OR 1.68, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.53–1.85]. Suicide risks in offspring of schizophrenic mothers and fathers were similar in magnitude; so were risks across different developmental periods. Importantly, offspring suicide risk remained essentially unchanged across genetically different relationships; offspring of siblings discordant for schizophrenia had equivalent risk increases within full-cousins (OR 1.96, 95% CI 1.66–2.31) and half-cousins (OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.17–2.44).


Parental schizophrenia was associated with increased risk of offspring suicidal behavior, independent of gender of the schizophrenic parent, and persisting into adulthood. The suicide risk in offspring remained at a similar level when comparing genetically different relationships, which suggests that at least part of the association is due to environmental mechanisms. These findings should inspire increased attention to suicidal ideation and prevention efforts in offspring of parents with schizophrenia.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Ms. T. Ljung, Karolinska Institutet, Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Box 281, SE-17177 Stockholm, Sweden. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
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