The role of child sexual abuse in the etiology of suicide and non-suicidal self-injury

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2011 Jul;124(1):30-41. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2010.01612.x. Epub 2010 Oct 11.


Objective: To address the best available scientific evidence on the role of child sexual abuse in the etiology of suicide and non-suicidal self-injury.

Method: Seven databases were searched, supplemented with hand-search of reference lists from retrieved papers. The author and a psychiatrist independently evaluated the eligibility of all studies identified, abstracted data, and assessed study quality. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.

Results: Four reviews, including about 65,851 subjects from 177 studies, were analyzed. There is evidence that child sexual abuse is a statistically significant, although general and non-specific, risk factor for suicide and non-suicidal self-injury. The relationship ranges from small to medium in magnitude and is moderated by sample source and size. Certain biological and psychosocial variables, such as serotonin hypoactivity and genes, family dysfunction, other forms of maltreatment, and some personality traits and psychiatric disorders, may either act independently or interact with child sexual abuse to promote suicide and non-suicidal self-injury in abuse victims, with child sexual abuse conferring additional risk, either as a 'distal' and indirect cause or as a 'proximal' and direct cause.

Conclusion: Child sexual abuse should be considered one of the several risk factors for suicide and non-suicidal self-injury and included in multifactorial etiological models.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Young Adult