Thursday, January 18, 1996

Suicide Linked To Sexual Abuse

Suicide Linked To Sexual Abuse
Reuters - June 18, 1996

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to attempt suicide. And the risk is even higher if the assault occurred during childhood, according to a new report.

"Sexual assault is associated with an increased lifetime rate of attempted suicide," wrote lead study author Dr. Jonathan R.T. Davidson, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "For women, the odds of attempting suicide were three to four times greater when the first reported sexual assault occurred prior to age 16 years, compared with age 16 years and older."

In the new study of almost 3,000 people in North Carolina, 67 reported having been sexually assaulted. About 15% of those people had attempted suicide, compared to less than 2% of those with no history of sexual assault, according to the report published in this month's issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

In almost one third of the people who had been sexually assaulted -- including two males -- the assault occurred before age 16.

While there were too few men in the study to make any conclusions about suicidal behavior, when the researchers looked at women, they found that those who had been assaulted before age 16 were much more likely to attempt suicide than others in the study.

"While major depression, substance abuse or dependence, and panic attacks are all separately associated with increased odds of suicide attempt, sexual assault remained significantly associated with suicidal behavior," Davidson said.

The study may have some limitations because it relied on the individual to report their past history and suicide attempts, information many people might feel uncomfortable about revealing, he noted.

However, the study results may direct doctors to ask people who have attempted suicide if they had been sexually abused. About 1 out of 10 people who attempt suicide go on to actually kill themselves, according to Davidson.

"The immensely damaging effect of such an event cannot be stressed too strongly, particularly in individuals with other vulnerability factors, such as family dysfunction, genetic or familial vulnerability to [psychological problems] and other developmental problems," he concluded.

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