- 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
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
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
- People who experience several traumatic events may be
30 to 50 times as likely to attempt suicide at some point in their
in childhood or adulthood--as those with a more carefree past, the
- "Adverse childhood experiences have serious
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
- 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
- "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
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
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
- SOURCE: The Journal of the
American Medical Association 2001;286:3039-