Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Perinatal Origin of Eventual Self-Destructive Behavior

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Perinatal Origin of Eventual Self-Destructive Behavior

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This paper summarizes results of three investigations: an ecological study dealing with the epidemiology of self-destructive behavior in the United States (unpublished), a case-control study of forensic victims in Stockholm,1 and preliminary results from an ongoing study of amphetamine addicts in Stockholm.2 The results seem alarming. The revealed data suggest that obstetric methods should be modified to prevent damages to future generations.


As is often the case in science, it was an accidental discovery that led to the epidemiological study in the United States. During the development of computer programs for investigating the epidemiology of certain somatic diseases, a most remarkable regularity was observed in the rate of several diseases for each age cohort in each state. Unexpectedly, the same regularity was found for rates of suicides and for female rates of alcoholism as reflected by death rates for cirrhosis of the liver.

Each age cohort in each state is characterized by a certain risk to commit suicide. This risk is fairly constant for cohorts in each state in relation to other age cohorts in the same state, and in relation to the same age cohort in other states.

This is illustrated in Figure 1. The relative mortality rates are shown for an age cohort born in the late 1910's at two periods 20 years apart. Hence, the victims were born during essentially the same period, but committed the suicide 1937 to 1940 and 1956 to 1960. The similarity is striking. Other age cohorts have different geographic distributions. This suggests the suicide rate somehow could be dependent on the birth period and the state where the individual is born. By an analysis of correlation matrices of death rates, this can be shown to hold true for age cohorts between 15-19 and 60-65 for those who committed suicide between 1937 to 1975 in the United States. There can only be one explanation-that suicide must have been caused, at least partly, to an environmental factor that has varied with time in the characteristic manner affecting each age cohort in each state to a varying degree. Such systematic variations offer a possibility to trace their origin.

Attempts to do so was made for suicides by multiple regression techniques. Twelve possible risk factors were considered during the life span of the victims. Socio-economic conditions (median income and unemployment) of the victims at time of death were irrelevant. A broken home during childhood was statistically significant, which is in agreement with earlier studies of relevant risk factors for suicide proneness. Similarly, parental alcoholism, particularly for mothers, was significant. Factors estimating the quality of caretaking environment during infancy were not found significant. The same result was obtained for congenital factors, as estimated for surviving infants from perinatal death rates for congenital malformations. Birth injury was found to be significant.

Hence, the variations for suicides in the various states are more closely associated with the rate of birth injury for the cohorts than with 11 other tested risk factors including socioeconomic variables. The results were surprising and the study was repeated by separating the population into white males, white females, black males and black females-the associations with the birth injury factor then became even more apparent. The results are examplified in Figure 2 for the 15-25 age cohort committing suicide 1971 to 1975. The regression coefficients are mean values and standard deviations for the four population categories. The study clearly indicated that obstetric procedures could be of importance for adult behavior.


It seemed obvious that these results based on ecological data had to be checked by a case-control study. Since it is possible in Sweden to trace the birth hospital of an individual from a persons social security number, it was decided to make the study in Stockholm. …

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