Childhood Sexual Abuse Strong Predictor of Suicide in Adolescence

Adolescent suicide is a large public health problem. When suicide is attempted and interrupted, it can put a significant financial and logistical strain on health resources. Therefore, it is important to understand what factors predict suicidal ideation in adolescents.

Shirley Yen of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University in Rhode Island wanted to assess the risk of suicide in a group of adolescents receiving inpatient psychiatric care. Yen evaluated 119 teens for 6 months after their release from a psychiatric hospital and found that there were several factors that predicted who would attempt suicide again and when.

Overall, 19% of the participants attempted suicide again and 37% had a suicide event, which included any intervention to prevent suicide as well as attempts. The risk factors that emerged included previous self-harm, borderline personality (BPD), previous suicide attempts, depression, and posttraumatic stress. Surprisingly, Yen found that race was also significant in that the black participants had high rates of repeat suicide attempts than the white participants.

But the biggest risk factor was childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Although Yen did not find that psychological issues such as anxiety, substance misuse, or ADHD predicted suicide attempts, she did find a direct link between posttraumatic stress (PTSD) resulting from CSA and suicide attempts. Almost half of the participants that reported having PTSD also had a history of CSA.

Research has demonstrated repeatedly that survivors of CSA are extremely vulnerable to a number of negative physical and psychological outcomes. Yen also looked at personality traits and found low positive mood and high aggression were common in the suicide attempters. Again, CSA can increase feelings of aggression and low positive affect can be a symptom of depression or PTSD.

Yen added, “The adverse short- and long-term consequences of CSA underscore the need for the assessment of childhood abuse and also public health awareness of its ramifications, such as increased suicide risk.” Overall, these findings show that adolescents, and especially those with a history of CSA, are at extremely high risk of taking their own lives in the period immediately following inpatient treatment and therefore, should be monitored closely by parents, caregivers, and clinicians.

Yen, S., et al. (2013). Prospective Predictors of Adolescent Suicidality: 6-Month Post-Hospitalization Follow-Up. Psychological Medicine 43.5 (2013): 983-93. ProQuest. Web.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Darren

    May 31st, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    A friend of mine was abused sexually when she was seven.And sadly she has destructive behaviors.Binge drinking and chain smoking are just two of them.I do not know if that is due to the childhood abuse but having read several times that it could be,it is sad how victims become victims again and again,whether at the hands of the perpetrator or to their own destructive behavior.

  • Jayden

    June 1st, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    I should say so. I don’t know of any person who could have experienced this as a child and then have no complications from it as they get older. I hope that counselors are able to come up with ways to help to stop this trend o not only adolescent suicide, but even more the behavior by others which is encouraging this to fester and grow.

  • Forgotten Australian Family

    June 1st, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    The best way to prevent suicidal ideation is to ensure victims get justice. As one who has been continually denied justice over my own CSA, I know how powerful a healing tool justice would be.

  • Jayneen Sanders

    June 2nd, 2013 at 2:49 AM

    And that is why parents and educators MUST teach sexual abuse prevention education from as young as 3. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is powerful.
    Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept children’s book is a wonderful tool to educate kids.
    We must educate our kids. We have a duty of care to do so.

  • Gloria

    June 2nd, 2013 at 5:33 AM

    Think about all of the pain that child who has been abused has been forced to endure. Think about how he or she must feel about himself, thinking that there may have been something that they could or shaould have done to prevent this from happening. And think of how betrayed they ultimately must feel knowing that this very well could have been done to them by someone whom they loved and trusted. With all of that against them, it is no wonder why those rates of suicide are so high when compared to other demographics.

  • jermaine

    June 2nd, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    so glad to have my parents speak about all this to me and my siblings when we were children…makes a world of difference.if you shy away from telling all this to your children they will find out anyway but making them aware yourself gives them a weapon against abuse,something that can have far fetching consequences as discussed here.

  • CHAD

    June 3rd, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    We have to start listening to what children have to say to us. Ok so they may not say it in words, but watch their actions, look at their interactions with others, These are the clues that many times go unnoticed and give us the clues that we are looking for to unlocking the secrets that they have. I would hate to think that I could have helped a child overcome this but I was too busy to take a little time out of my own life to do something good for him or her.

  • Kaye

    June 25th, 2013 at 2:03 AM

    I will never understand why I was abused. Literally sent next door to the the neighbour who abused me for 1 and 1/2 years by the very Mother who also required me to prop her up at her visits with my Stepfather in Hospital. My Stepfather died eventually but I’m very angry at my Mum…Why? I’m a High functioning Alcoholic for sure. I always dream of what I could have been had I not had these experiences in life. My soul is sad

  • admin2

    June 25th, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Hi Kaye. Thank you for your comment. We’re sorry to hear about your experiences and want to make sure you have access to resources that may help. You can look for a therapist on by using our advanced search (, or call our toll-free Find-A-Therapist line at 888-563-2112 ext. 1 and our Support Team will try to connect you with a therapist in your area.
    Thank you again for posting! We wish you the best.
    The Team

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