Early Childhood Abuse Linked
To Suicide Attempts
By Melissa Schorr

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adults who suffered abuse or other negative experiences during their childhood are more likely than their peers to attempt suicide decades later, according to federal health officials.
The researchers found that individuals with at least one type of harmful childhood experience were two to five times more likely to attempt suicide. For example, those who reported being emotionally abused as a child were five times more likely to report a suicide attempt, while those who reported having had parents who divorced or separated during childhood were nearly twice as likely to report a later suicide attempt.
People who experience several traumatic events may be 30 to 50 times as likely to attempt suicide at some point in their life--either in childhood or adulthood--as those with a more carefree past, the researchers estimate.
"Adverse childhood experiences have serious long-term consequences, such as suicide attempts," lead author Shanta R. Dube, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, told Reuters Health.
The researchers evaluated more than 17,000 healthy adults who visited a primary care clinic in California between 1995 to 1997. The adults were asked to report whether they had experienced eight various harmful experiences as a child, including sexual, emotional or physical abuse, parental separation or divorce, witnessing domestic violence, and living with family members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or criminals.
The findings were published in the December 26th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The investigators found that 3.8% of the adults reported they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, with women three times more likely than men to attempt suicide. Two thirds of the adults who had attempted suicide had experienced at least one of the negative experiences during their childhood.
For example, Dube said, only 1.1% of adults who reported no negative childhood experiences attempted suicide. In contrast, 35% of adults who reported seven or more negative childhood experiences had attempted suicide.
"Suicide attempts are relatively rare events--which is a major reason why they are hard to prevent," Dube said. "By providing data that helps to understand what puts people at risk for suicide, inroads into suicide prevention may be made."
Early exposure to these negative events may disrupt the proper development of the neural pathways within the brain, affecting subsequent mental health, Dube noted.
Disturbingly, 64% of the healthy adults in the study reported they had experienced one of these events, making the potentially increased risk of attempted suicide fairly widespread.
"This type of data basically tells us how common these experiences are," Dube said. "If we could prevent these experiences in childhood, it would reduce the risk of suicide attempts."
SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;286:3039-
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