Objective: Studies show that childhood sexual and physical abuse predict repeated suicide attempts and self-mutilation. Little is known about the importance of sexual and physical abuse when compared to other severe childhood adversities with respect to chronic suicidal behavior.
Method: Seventy-four subjects, 65% of whom were women, consecutively admitted to a general hospital after having made a suicide attempt, were interviewed as part of the intake interview about prior suicide attempts and self-mutilation and received DSM-IV diagnoses. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, antipathy from parents, loss of parents, and severe discord in the family before the age of 18, were covered by the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse (CECA) interview schedule.
Results: The prevalence of severe sexual abuse was 35%, severe physical abuse 18%, neglect 27%, antipathy 34%, loss of caregiver 37% and exposure to family violence 31%. Physical and sexual abuse were independently associated with repeated suicide attempts when controlling for the effects of the other childhood adverse factors. No other childhood adversity was related to chronic suicidal behavior. The odds ratio of exposure to sexual or physical abuse was highest among those who both repeated suicide attempts and self-mutilated.
Conclusion: Physical and sexual abuse are significantly and independently associated with repeated suicidal behavior.