Self-harm risk between adolescence and midlife in people who experienced separation from one or both parents during childhood

Aske Astrup, Carsten B. Pedersen, Pearl Mok, Matthew Carr, Roger Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experience of child-parent separation predicts adverse outcomes in later life. We conducted a detailed epidemiological examination of this complex relationship by modelling an array of separation scenarios and trajectories and subsequent risk of self-harm.
This cohort study examined persons born in Denmark during 1971–1997. We measured child-parent separations each year from birth to 15th birthday via complete residential address records in the Civil Registration System. Self-harm episodes between 15th birthday and early middle age were ascertained through linkage to psychiatric and general hospital registers. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) from Poisson regression models were estimated against a reference category of individuals not separated from their parents.
All exposure models examined indicated an association with raised self-harm risk. For example, large elevations in risk were observed in relation to separation from both parents at 15th birthday (IRR 5.50, 95% CI 5.25–5.77), experiencing five or more changes in child-parent separation status (IRR 5.24, CI 4.88–5.63), and having a shorter duration of familial cohesion during upbringing. There was no significant evidence for varying strength of association according to child's gender.
Measuring child-parent separation according to differential residential addresses took no account of the reason for or circumstances of these separations.
These novel findings suggest that self-harm prevention initiatives should be tailored toward exposed persons who remain psychologically distressed into adulthood. These high-risk subgroups include individuals with little experience of familial cohesion during their upbringing, those with the most complicated trajectories who lived through multiple child-parent separation transitions, and those separated from both parents during early adolescence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date24 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


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