Frequent Moves in Childhood Tied to Teen Suicide Risk

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in teens are depression, substance abuse, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors. A recent study now adds to this information, saying that frequent moves in childhood are tied to teen suicide risk.

A study from Denmark published in Archives of General Psychiatry found that children who moved frequently were more likely to have attempted or completed suicide between the ages of 11 and 17 years old.

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.

In analyzing the data, researchers observed that the rates of suicidal behavior increased with the number of times the child had changed addresses. 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.

The authors of the study concluded that frequent change of residence may induce
distress among children and, therefore, increase their risk of suicidal behavior; however, they stated more research is needed to explore this association.

While more research is needed on this topic, the study does raise an important question for parents who move frequently or who are considering a move: How can they minimize the adverse effect of moving on their children?

Steps Parents Can Take

There are all sorts of stressors for children and teens that are associated with moving. Moves mean a change of schools and friends, which can feel like a disruption of their lives--particularly for teens whose identity is tightly linked to their friends and social groups.

If you are a parent considering a move, it is important to consider your children's emotional needs. Here are some steps you can take:

Involve your child (or children). It is always good to involve your children as much as possible in the process of moving. Invite their participation in decision-making, planning and practical work.

Talk to your child. Set aside time each day to talk to your child. Remind him or her that you care by listening, showing interest in his or her problems, and respecting his or her feelings. This step can be crucial in preventing isolation, withdrawal and progressive depression associated with suicide risk.

Plan visits. Even though technology makes things easier for children and teens to communicate with their friends, it is helpful, once you move, to plan visits back to your old neighborhood or have friends come visit with your children in their new home.

It's perfectly normal for your child or teen to feel sad, upset or unhappy with the change and their new situation. But if these feelings are intense, linger for weeks, months or even years, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible.

Warning Signs of Teen Suicide or Suicidal Thoughts

It is important to learn the warning signs of teen suicide in order to prevent an attempt.

Typical warning signs of suicide or suicidal thoughts include:

  • Withdrawing from social contact, wanting to be left alone and isolation.
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
  • Dramatic mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.
  • Developing personality changes, such as becoming very outgoing after being shy.
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns.
  • Giving away belongings.
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence.
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again.
  • Talking about suicide, including making such statements as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I was dead," or "I wish I hadn't been born."

What to Do if You Suspect Suicide Risk

It is important to note that suicide warning signs are not always obvious. However, if you suspect suicide risk or if your child makes a statement of suicidal feelings or thoughts, take it very seriously. Don't try to manage your child's suicidal thoughts or behavior entirely on your own. Any child or teen who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately. Call your doctor or qualified mental health provider and make an appointment.




Brownstein, J. Moving May Up Adolescent Suicide Risk. June 2, 2009. Accessed Dec. 7, 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts. Information Page. Accessed Dec. 7, 2009.

Qin, P., Mortensen, P.B., Pedersen, C.B. Frequent Change of Residence and Risk of Attempted and Completed Suicide Among Children and Adolescents. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(6):628-632.

Teen Suicide, Information Page. University of Virginia Health System. Dec. 17, 2007. Accessed Dec. 7, 2009.