Saturday, March 26, 2005

Suicide risk and parent/child IQ discrepancy / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Suicidal tendencies

The Boston Globe summarizes a British Medical Journal review article on suicide risk for men. This is a well written newspaper article; actually, it reads more like a review in a medical journal:
... Men with low IQ scores and only a primary education were no more likely to kill themselves than men with high IQ scores and a higher level of education. But men with low IQ scores and higher education were at a greater risk of suicide. And men with low IQ scores and highly educated parents were at the highest risk of all...

...the ''Comprehensive Textbook of Suicidology,'' published in 2000 and coedited by Berman, lists at least 62 independent risk factors for suicide, including mental disorders, alcoholism, substance abuse, social isolation, poor problem-solving, problems with aggression and rage, a sense of worthlessness, and a sense of hopelessness.

Most of these factors stem from beliefs people hold about their lives and the world but-crucially-not from intelligence. ''IQ can't be changed significantly,'' said Thomas Ellis, a psychology professor at Marshall University. ''But with therapy, many of these other risk factors can.''
This is of obvious interest to parents of children in special needs programs. We can invent all kinds of potential explanations and possible interventions, but we really don't have enough data for informed speculation.

One important limitation. The study measured IQ among Swedish men at age 18 (military service) through 44. It therefore 'missed' suicides prior to age 18 and after 44. It may the study identified a subgroup who's suicide risk is above average during this interval, but lifetime risk might be higher in other groups.

Tentatively, I'd suggest that high IQ parents of low IQ children might follow developments in 'suicidology' and focus on early detection and the use of 'recommended' interventions. For complex reasons I'm skeptical about the evidence base for 'suicidology', but it's the best we have to go by.

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