Childhood sexual abuse can lead to severe psychological impairment, substance use problems, anxiety, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and even suicide. For women who have survived childhood sexual abuse, the type of abuse, specifically, intercourse or molestation, the role of perpetrator, and the age at which the abuse occurred could be significant factors that help predict the likelihood of future suicide attempts. To further examine these individual elements in relation to suicide attempts in women, Banu Cankaya, Assistant Professor at Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, reviewed data from 106 women with MDD who had been sexually abused during childhood.
Of the participants, the majority had PTSD and one third of the women were diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Over half had attempted suicide at least once, and more than one in four had tried to commit suicide several times. Of those who had only attempted once, 96.6% had survived childhood sexual abuse. Cankaya discovered that the participants were more likely to have repeated suicide attempts if they were abused by a parent. And although PTSD was related to suicide in general, it was more strongly linked to one attempt than repeated attempts. But the women with BPD were more likely to have multiple suicide attempts, perhaps because of impulsivity which is inherent in BPD.
Cankaya believes that these findings underscore the importance of exploring the type of abuse a woman has suffered. For women with MDD, identifying their abuser and the type of abuse suffered may increase the suicide prevention efforts made by a clinician. Closer monitoring of suicidal behavior, problem-solving strategies, and safety conditions may be needed for women with MDD and a history of sexual abuse by a parent. Cankaya understands that navigating the waters of patient disclosure may be difficult at first, as clients are often unable to share traumatic information from their pasts. “Nevertheless, our findings support the view that identifying specific characteristics of abuse could be critical in determining the level of risk for repetitive attempts and suicide.”
Cankaya, B., Talbot, N. L., Ward, E. A., Duberstein, P. R. Parental Sexual Abuse and Suicidal Behaviour Among Women With Major Depressive Disorder.Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 57.12 (2012): 45-51. Print.
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