Chen YH, Chiou HY, Tang CH, et al. Risk of death by unnatural causes during early childhood in offspring of parents with mental illness. Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;167(2):198-205. Epub 2009 Dec 1. (Original) PMID: 19952076
OBJECTIVE: Limited evidence reveals an elevated mortality risk in offspring of psychiatric patients after infancy. This nationwide population-based study in Taiwan aimed to investigate mortality risk in preschool children up to age 5 whose parents have severe mental illness. METHOD: Three nationwide population-based data sets were linked. A total of 3,166 children with one or both parents having schizophrenia or an affective disorder were identified, together with a comparison cohort of 25,328 children matched with the study group in terms of maternal age and year of delivery. Cox proportional hazard regressions were performed to compute hazard ratios, with adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and maternal medical comorbidities.
RESULTS: During the preschool years, 54 (1.7%) deaths were documented among offspring of parents with severe mental illness and 155 (0.6%) in the comparison cohort. Parental mental illness was independently associated with a risk of death nearly 2.4 times higher (95% CI=1.72-3.28) than in the comparison cohort. The association was even more marked for unnatural causes of death, in which the mortality risk was 8.35 times greater (95% CI=4.04-17.24) in children of affected parents than in the comparison cohort. The proportional mortality rates were as high as 20.4% and 11.1% for accident and homicide, respectively, among offspring exposed to parental mental illness.
CONCLUSIONS: An elevated mortality risk, especially from unnatural causes of death, was identified for offspring of parents with severe mental illness during the preschool years in an Asian society. There is an urgent need for multidisciplinary team approaches and risk management strategies to support psychiatric patients who are having difficulty with the transition to parenthood.