Early life sexual abuse is associated with increased suicide attempts: An update meta-analysis

J Psychiatr Res. 2018 Apr:99:129-141. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Feb 6.


Suicide is an emerging, yet preventable global health issue associated with significant mortality. Identification of underlying risk factors and antecedents may inform preventive strategies and interventions. This study serves to provide an updated meta-analysis examining the extent of association of early life sexual abuse with suicide attempts. Using the keywords [early abuse OR childhood abuse OR sexual OR rape OR molest* OR violence OR trauma OR PTSD] AND [suicid* OR premature OR unnatural OR deceased OR died OR mortality], a preliminary search on the PubMed, Ovid, PsychINFO, Web of Science and Google Scholar databases yielded 12,874 papers published in English between 1-Jan-1988 and 1-June-2017. Of these, only 47 studies were included in the final meta-analysis. The 47 studies (25 cross-sectional, 14 cohort, 6 case-control and 2 twin studies) contained a total of 151,476 subjects. Random-effects meta-analysis found early life sexual abuse to be a significant risk factor for suicide attempts, compared to baseline population (pooled OR 1.89, 95% CI: 1.66 to 2.12, p < 0.001). Subgroup analyses of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies showed similar findings of increased risk as they yielded ORs of 1.98 (95% CI: 1.70 to 2.25, p < 0.001) and 1.65 (95% CI: 1.37 to 1.93, p < 0.001), respectively. In both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, childhood sexual abuse was consistently associated with increased risk of suicide attempts. The findings of the present study provide strong grounds for funding public policy planning and interventions to prevent sexual abuse and support its victims. Areas for future research should include preventive and treatment strategies and factors promoting resilience following childhood sexual abuse. Future research on the subject should have more robust controls and explore the differential effects of gender and intra-versus extra-familial sexual abuse.

Keywords: Childhood; Early life; Meta-analysis; Sexual abuse; Suicide; Suicide attempt.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult