As only a parent could know, the rewards of having children far outweigh the sacrifices, and as a good friend of mine once said, becoming a parent makes us a better person. For some of us, there are tangible benefits to focusing our attention on someone other than ourselves, and the presence of the another person who needs us can often give our lives greater meaning.

In fact, a new study has suggested that having children might even save our lives. Researchers have found that becoming a mother may protect a woman from suicide, and the degree of protection increases with each child. The findings, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal are the result of a study of nearly 1.3 million women who were followed over the course of 20 years to study the hypothesis of a 19th century sociologist (Emile Durkheim) who first proposed the protective effect of motherhood.

What they found was that when compared to a mother who had one child, mothers with two children had a 39% decrease in suicide-related mortality, and those with three children had a 60% decrease. The study’s participants were followed from 1978 until the end of 2007.

The findings are significant because, unlike previous studies on the subject, it included a large number of women, and it also involved a substantial number of deaths by suicide (2,252). In the country in question (Taiwan), suicide is the ninth-leading cause of death in women has been steadily increasing since 1999, whereas suicides have been declining in most Western countries. Taiwan also contrasts with Western countries in that the ratio of male to female suicides is higher (2:1 and 3:1, respectively).

The authors made not of the fact that the women included in the study were young, which is significant because a majority of suicide-related deaths in women occur before they reach premenopausal age.

Why exactly motherhood may protect against suicide is not clear, especially in lieu of the fact that pregnancy and giving birth can sometimes lead to post-partum depression. Some experts postulate that children can elevate a mother’s sense of self-worth and thereby give her life greater meaning and purpose. Children can also give mothers emotional support and help to clarify the importance of her role as a caregiver. And finally, being a mother can help to develop social networks and increase her level of social and familial support.

Whatever the case, it is interesting to think that the process of giving and supporting a life may have a positive effect on a person’s own life, a phenomenon that most parents experience at one time or another.

If you are feeling depressed or have feelings of despair, speak to someone immediately and know that there is always hope. For more information, visit the homepages for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.