Childhood maltreatment and adult suicidality: a comprehensive systematic review with meta-analysis

Psychol Med. 2019 May;49(7):1057-1078. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718003823. Epub 2019 Jan 4.


This comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis aims to quantify the association between different types of childhood maltreatment and suicidality. We searched five bibliographic databases, including Medline, PsychINFO, Embase, Web of Science and CINAHL, until January 2018. Random-effects meta-analysis was employed followed by univariable and multivariable meta-regressions. Heterogeneity was quantified using the I2 statistic and formal publication bias tests were undertaken. The methodological quality of the studies was critically appraised and accounted in the meta-regression analyses. Data from 68 studies based on n = 261.660 adults were pooled. All different types of childhood maltreatment including sexual abuse [odds ratio (OR) 3.17, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.76-3.64], physical abuse (OR 2.52, 95% CI 2.09-3.04) and emotional abuse (OR 2.49, 95% CI 1.64-3.77) were associated with two- to three-fold increased risk for suicide attempts. Similar results were found for the association between childhood maltreatment and suicidal ideation. Complex childhood abuse was associated with a particularly high risk for suicide attempts in adults (OR 5.18, 95% CI 2.52-10.63). Variations across the studies in terms of demographic and clinical characteristics of the participants and other core methodological factors did not affect the findings of the main analyses. We conclude that there is solid evidence that childhood maltreatment is associated with increased odds for suicidality in adults. The main outstanding challenge is to better understand the mechanisms which underpin the development of suicidality in people exposed to childhood maltreatment because current evidence is scarce.

Keywords: Abuse; childhood maltreatment; meta-analysis; neglect; suicidality; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Correlation of Data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult