Journal Article

Moderating role of sociodemographic factors in parental psychiatric treatment before and after offspring severe self-harm

Pitkänen, J., Remes, H. M., Aaltonen, M., Martikainen, P.
Journal of Affective Disorders, 145–154 (2023)
Open Access


Background: Parental psychiatric disorders are known risk factors for adolescent self-harm. Although this association is likely to have a bidirectional element, evidence on changes in parental psychiatric treatment following offspring self-harm is scarce.
Methods: Finnish children born in 1987–1996 with a hospital-treated episode of self-harm between the ages 13 and 19 years (N = 3636) were identified using administrative register data, and their biological mothers (N = 3432) and fathers (N = 3167) were followed two years before and after the episode. Data on purchases of psychotropic medication, specialized psychiatric treatment and psychiatric sickness allowances were used to examine psychiatric treatment among parents. Differences by parental education, employment and living arrangements were assessed, and offspring self-harm was compared with offspring accidental poisonings and traffic accidents.
Results: Psychiatric treatment peaked among mothers during the three-month period after offspring self-harm, after which the treatment prevalence decreased but remained slightly elevated relative to the time preceding offspring self-harm. Higher levels of education and being employed increased the likelihood of treatment right after the episode. Among fathers, changes in treatment were negligible. Treatment trajectories around the comparison events of accidents were similar in shape but more muted than among the parents whose children had self-harmed.
Limitations: General practitioner visits or other data from primary health care were not available.
Conclusion: Mothers receive increased psychiatric treatment after stressful offspring events. Our results indicate that prevention of self-harm and accidents would be beneficial not only for those directly concerned but also for their family members.

Keywords: Finland
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.