Research Highlights

Genetic links to suicidal tendencies

Published online 5 January 2011

Mohammed Yahia

Suicide accounts for 1.5% of all deaths worldwide, and is expected to increase by 50% by 2030, posing a serious problem to public health. Previous research suggests that suicidal behaviour may have a genetic basis, with a known increase in suicidal tendencies among the offspring of parents with a history of psychopathology.

An international team of researchers, including one from Beirut, Lebanon, conducted large-scale studies in 21 countries around the world to study the relationship between psychopathological disorders in people and the suicidal behaviour of their offspring.

The research confirmed that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression were associated with the formation of suicidal plans among offspring. Often these thoughts did not develop into actual suicide attempts. Antisocial personality and anxiety disorders, on the other hand, were associated with offspring actually attempting suicide. The researchers speculate that actually acting on suicidal thoughts may require a large degree of impulsiveness and high emotional arousal, which are often manifest in antisocial behaviour and anxiety disorders.

With this understanding, the researchers suggests that different parts of the pathway from suicide ideation to suicide attempts may have different genetic origins, a useful piece of information when conducting further research into suicide. Instead of looking at the effect of psychiatric disorders, they suggest looking at the underlying traits related to these disorders in order to predict suicide progression.


  1. Gureje, O. et al. Parental psychopathology and the risk of suicidal behavior in their offspring: results from the World Mental Health surveys. Molecular Psychiatry. 16 November 2010. doi: 10.1038/mp.2010.111